Precedent George Bush

[ Posted Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 – 15:22 UTC ]

No, that's not a typo in the title. Because President George Bush may (to his own party's dismay, incidentally) wind up being remembered as "Mister Precedent," and not as "Mister President."

George Bush's term in office will be remembered for the precedents it set, particularly in relation to the power of the presidency, and the separation of powers between the three branches of American government. Vice President Dick Cheney has been at the forefront of this effort to "restore power" to the presidency, which he believes was unjustly taken from the office in the aftermath of Richard Nixon and Watergate.

This naked power grab has taken many forms. The most obvious, of course, is Bush and Cheney's assertion that because "we're at war" (even though, technically, we aren't), His Highness The President can do whatever he feels like -- and it's legal by definition. Somehow the words "commander in chief" in the Constitution are supposed to be read "when we're at war, the president cannot be questioned or restrained in any way, shape, or form." Since we're "at war" Bush can do any damn thing he pleases -- torture people, kidnap people anywhere on earth, send people to other countries to be tortured, eavesdrop on anyone he wishes without having a judge sign off on it, hold anyone in the world prisoner endlessly, and all the shameful rest of it -- and the Constitution and any international agreements we've signed (like the Geneva Conventions) are suddenly and magically no longer in effect.

Equally important is the White House's (so far mostly successful) stonewalling of Congress. "Executive privilege" has been redefined to mean "Congress can never ask any question to any person who has ever shaken hands with the president." Or something along those lines. Congress can convene all the committees it wants, and issue all the subpoenas they wish, but nobody's going to appear to testify -- because the president said so. What's Congress going to do? Refer it to the Justice Department?

Even calling it the "Justice" Department is laughable these days. It needs something more... Soviet... to capture the reality of the Bush "law enforcement" department. How about the "Loyalty Oath Department" -- that seems fitting. Because much like any totalitarian government any time in history, it has now been revealed that the only persons hired were those of sufficient party loyalty. Remember the Soviet Union? Where you couldn't get a government job -- any government job -- without your Communist Party Card? Welcome to George Bush's "Justice" Department.

But the "party purity pledge" didn't stop there. It also has applied to (of all people) scientists. Scientific government agencies now have their work changed, edited, ignored, or blocked -- due to party considerations. "Just the facts" is so last century, The new thinking is: "We'll tell you the conclusions we want reached, then you can write your report to justify those conclusions." Once again, Soviet five-year plans spring immediately to mind.

Bush and Cheney have spent years trampling the Constitution and grabbing all the power they could for the office of the president, but they weren't alone in doing so. Congress rolled over like a lazy hound dog who wants its belly scratched and just let him do it. Now, when Congress was in control of the Republicans, this might have been expected. But Democrats control Congress now. They have been working on reining in the worst abuses of power (Alberto Gonzales), but they have simply not been bold enough.

For one thing, they've passed every national security law Bush asked for, even the ones that blatantly overreached. They're about to pass another one, giving telecommunications corporations retroactive amnesty for breaking the law -- since the telecoms have realized the error of their ways and now donate zillions of dollars to Democrats rather than Republicans. Since the campaign cash is now flowing nicely, there's obviously no need for them to be punished any further.

But the real disgrace of the Democratic Congress is in letting Bush run out the clock on pretty much every investigation they have managed to conduct. Subpoenas are ignored without consequences. Contempt of Congress is ignored without consequences. Documents are withheld without consequences. Unless you consider "getting a strongly-worded letter from the chairman" as consequences, which I do not.

Last year, after Democrats took control of Congress, they should have immediately (or, at the very least, after the first time a document or testimony request went unanswered) halted work on everything else they were doing to pass an Independent Counsel law. And then they should have immediately named one to investigate Bush's White House. Only an Independent Counsel has the power to compel testimony -- any testimony they see fit to ask. Remember Ken Starr? That's what should have been done. A year ago. Now, with the election only a few months away, and with less than a year to go in office, Bush knows he can successfully stall on any request from Congress whatsoever. By the time anything works its way through the courts, he'll be back in Texas, laughing from his front porch.

This has been a serious abdication of responsibility by the Democrats in Congress, and as a result has led to a serious abdication of power from Congress to the Executive Branch.

Which is what leads me to write this, as a friendly warning to Republicans. And to Democrats in Congress as well. Because Bush is leaving soon, but the lines in the sand he has been drawing will not leave. They will be sitting there as precedents for the separation of powers between the branches.

If you are a Republican, consider this -- Barack Obama may be our next president.

If you are a Democrat, consider likewise -- John McCain may be our next president.

Do you really want to give the next president these unchecked powers? Because whether they use them or not, they will always be available as precedents. All they will have to say is: "George Bush did this exact thing when he was president, therefore what I am doing is no different. And at the time, Congress agreed with Bush, so if you don't agree with me then you're obviously playing politics with national security and putting our nation at risk."

That is all the next president will have to say. In essence: Bush did it, everyone was fine with it, so I'm going to do it too.

And that is why I say George W. Bush will be remembered as Mister Precedent. And not in a good way.


[Note: I didn't want to get too sidetracked here, but Senator Chris Dodd just gave an amazing speech on the Senate floor on the FISA bill that is one of the best speeches I've read in the past few years. If you want some fire-breathing defense of the Constitution against Bush and his minions, I strongly urge you to read the full text of Dodd's rip-snortin' speech.]


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


10 Comments on “Precedent George Bush”

  1. [1] 
    ChicagoMolly wrote:

    Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution starts, "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;..." -- not that he becomes Generalissimo El Busho, Ruler of All He Surveys, with a spiked helmet, knee-boots and a riding crop, whose decrees must not be questioned. I was taught that the point of the Commander in Chief title was that the final responsibility lay in civilian hands, not military. It was supposed to be a safeguard against unchecked military power. Well, SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!!! In the 20th Century alone we've had one president after another, Ds and Rs alike, who couldn't resist the pull to the Dark Side. Almost makes you want to chloroform the lot of 'em.

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    This fawning over Dodd is really hypocritical..

    Have any of you READ his latest bill??? The one that requires all credit card companies, including Ebay/PayPal, Amazon, Google Checkout, etc etc to send all their transaction data to the Federal Government??

    I mean, hay.. He might have a logical and rational reason for promoting such an idea... I don't presume to know what is in his mind. He has more information about things than I do. So what he is proposing MAY be the right thing to do.

    But to hail him as a hero of privacy??? What?? Seriously!???


    {crossposted to}

  3. [3] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Well, to the IRS specifically.

    The summary text of this particular part of the bill:

    Payment Card and Third Party Network Information Reporting. The proposal requires information reporting on payment card and third party network transactions. Payment settlement entities, including merchant acquiring banks and third party settlement organizations, or third party payment facilitators acting on their behalf, will be required to report the annual gross amount of reportable transactions to the IRS and to the participating payee. Reportable transactions include any payment card transaction and any third party network transaction. Participating payees include persons who accept a payment card as payment and third party networks who accept payment from a third party settlement organization in settlement of transactions. A payment card means any card issued pursuant to an agreement or arrangement which provides for standards and mechanisms for settling the transactions. Use of an account number or other indicia associated with a payment card will be treated in the same manner as a payment card. A de minimis exception for transactions of $10,000 or less and 200 transactions or less applies to payments by third party settlement organizations. The proposal applies to returns for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2010. Back-up withholding provisions apply to amounts paid after December 31, 2011. This proposal is estimated to raise $9.802 billion over ten years.

    I don’t particularly agree with it but to a certain extent I think it is probably inevitable. This is about taxes not tracking information. The information goes to the IRS and in annual GROSS amounts per individual third party that amount to a total greater than $10,000 or 200 transactions. This is not item by item list of all your on-line/credit card purchases.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    "I don’t particularly agree with it but to a certain extent I think it is probably inevitable. This is about taxes not tracking information.

    That sounds like the Bush Administration and their claim that only terrorism related info will be viewed...

    Dodd get's ALL the information and then chooses what he needs from it?

    How is this different than the eavesdropping that the Bush Administration does???


  5. [5] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    But Dodd does not get all the information as the bill is written. Once a year someone like amazon issues a report with something like:

    Michale : 247 purchases from Amazon for a total of $7,687

    The raw data of each individual sale stays on the Amazon servers.

    At least that's my reading of the summary.

  6. [6] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Also as the Bill is written Dodd should never see the information as the report would go straight to the IRS. Who sees it beyond the IRS is of course in question.

    I don't like it but it's all about cracking down on taxes and is too little data to be useful for most intelligence gathering efforts, though I could see that bulk data being of occasional use.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    I was speaking facetiously when I said Dodd would get the info.. The Federal Government would..

    Michale : 247 purchases from Amazon for a total of $7,687

    OH MY GOD, HOW DO YOU KNOW!!!!?????? :D

    I don't like it but it's all about cracking down on taxes and is too little data to be useful for most intelligence gathering efforts, though I could see that bulk data being of occasional use.

    But that's just my point.. The argument against the Bush Administration is a similiar argument. I could argue that the data collected on Aunt Martha's Brownie Recipe is "too little data to be useful for most intelligence gathering efforts"

    But that doesn't seem to matter to the hordes that are against the FISA measures. Their claim is ANY DATA collected is too much data collected..

    Don't get me wrong, BB... While I may not agree with your with regards to the Dodd measure (and I have a stake in it, being I do a lot of online stuff to supplement my income) my point is that it is hypocritical of Dodd to author this bill yet decry the FISA measures.

    But, as I said, I have to concede that there MAY be legitimate reasons for this. Most likely there is, as you have outlined...

    I am just saying....


  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Maybe I'm confused, but I can't help but wonder if you're on both sides of an issue at once here. How is data privacy OK in one instance (bank records) but not in the other (phone calls/email wiretaps)?

    Personally, I'm against both, just for the record. Call me a "Data Privaterian" if you will, I don't mind.

    Would it help if Dodd's bill said "we're targeting terrorists with this program"?


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Would it help if Dodd's bill said "we're targeting terrorists with this program"?

    Oh, I think it probably would.. :D

    I realize that my positions may be contradictory, but when you look at things closely, it really isn't..

    As I have taken great pains to point out, I CONCEDE the possibility that Dodd may have real and legitimate reasons for his measure that decimates the financial privacy of all Americans. And, as I pointed out, this hits a lot closer to home than other measures... But, as you see on HuffPo and in here, those who castigate the new FISA measures are not willing to concede the same point. To whit that maybe there ARE legitimate reasons for these measures..

    Therein lies my beef..

    I don't like Dodd's bill... But I don't know enough about the circumstances to state unequivocally that they are WRONG.. I have to bow to his better judgment and at least concede the POSSIBILITY that he may be correct...

    It's intellectually dishonest for those that oppose the FISA measures to NOT concede the same.. That maybe, JUST MAYBE, these measures are necessary...

    Finally, my biggest beef is that Dodd is being heralded as some Privacy Hero.. When, in fact, he is not...

    I would LOVE to hear Dodd explain his position on the FISA measures vis a vis his sponsoring the bill that totally decimates the financial privacy of all Americans..

    Think we'll ever see that!??

    I have a feeling, judging from the supportive comments I have read on HuffPo (yes, there are quite a few) that most Americans don't really have a problem with the new FISA measures.. The big beef is the Telecom Immunity/Pardon/Forgiveness aspect of things..

    People are bitter because they won't be able to cling to that shiny new baseball bat that they wanted to beat Bush over the head with..

    Oh well, I say.. K sara sara...


  10. [10] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    I rather liked and agree with Dodd's FISA speech and he is a bit tarnished by this addition to the transportation bill. I think it is evil but not hypocritical. When using the phone system, land or cell, there is a legal expectation of privacy. This has been violated by order of the president, at least in the limited form that it takes (foreign calls).

    Legally, Dodd's bill should be completely redundant as all the information it uncovers should all have been reported to the government on your tax form by you. There is the difference. FISA tries to get and forgives those who helped get new information by questionable and quite possibly illegal means. Dodd’s bill is a check to make sure you are reporting to the government the information you are legally required to report.

    I find it more nanny state than big brother. Both evil but different.

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