[eDebate] usrup king george thru nat'l university crisis

Jake Stromboli infracaninophile
Sat Jun 17 14:02:25 CDT 2006


the assumptions of critiques and the efficacy of classroom "action" have 
radically changed during george's reign.  the "unitary executive" is 
frightening.   sit-ins are the only appropriate response during a transition 
to a modified fascist government.   a reassertion of popular power is 
necessary or you are conceding unchecked presidential power.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1799717,00.html

America's problem is again a usurping king called George

Bush's determination to impose his own reading of new laws amounts to a 
power grab and subverts the US constitution

Martin Kettle
Saturday June 17, 2006
The Guardian

Imagine a country with a different kind of monarch from the one we are used 
to. Forget the nation-binding human monarch whom Archbishop Rowan Williams 
praised so deftly this week. Imagine instead a monarch who, like many of 
Elizabeth II's ancestors, routinely reserved the right to override laws 
passed by the legislature, or who repeatedly asserted that the laws mean 
something they do not say. Imagine, in fact, King George of America.

On April 30 the Boston Globe journalist Charlie Savage wrote an article 
whose contents become more astonishing the more one reads them. Over the 
past five years, Savage reported, President George Bush has quietly claimed 
the authority to disobey more than 750 laws that have been enacted by the 
United States Congress since he took office. At the heart of Bush's strategy 
is the claim that the president has the power to set aside any statute that 
conflicts with his own interpretation of the constitution.

Remarkably, this systematic reach for power has occurred not in secret but 
in public. Go to the White House website and the evidence is there in black 
and white. It takes the form of dozens of documents in which Bush asserts 
that his power as the nation's commander in chief entitles him to overrule 
or ignore bills sent to him by Congress for his signature. Behind this claim 
is a doctrine of the "unitary executive", which argues that the president's 
oath of office endows him with an independent authority to decide what a law 
means.

Periodically, congressional leaders come down from Capitol Hill to applaud 
as the president, seated at his desk, signs a bill that becomes the law of 
the land. They are corny occasions. But they are a photo-op reminder that 
American law-making involves compromises that reflect a balance between the 
legislature and the presidency. The signing ceremony symbolises that the 
balance has been upheld and renewed.

After the legislators leave, however, Bush puts his signature to another 
document. Known as a signing statement, this document is a presidential 
pronouncement setting out the terms in which he intends to interpret the new 
law. These signing statements often conflict with the new statutes. In some 
cases they even contradict their clear meaning. Increasing numbers of 
scholars and critics now believe they amount to a systematic power grab 
within a system that rests on checks and balances of which generations of 
Americans have been rightly proud - and of which others are justly envious.

The Bush administration has often been charged with unilateralism in its 
conduct of foreign affairs. But a similar disregard for the rule of law 
underlies this domestic strategy. Article 1, section 1 of the US 
constitution states: "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested 
in a Congress of the United States." Section 7 says that if the president 
refuses to sign a law, the Congress can override him. But Bush has never 
vetoed a bill. Instead he signs bills into law and then unilaterally 
redefines them his way.

The contrast between the rhetoric of the public ceremony and the 
self-authorisation in the later signing statements is large. Take, for 
example, the renewal of the USA Patriot Act on March 9. In the signing 
ceremony Bush stressed that the law had been a bipartisan effort involving 
Congress and the White House. In the subsequent signing statement, however, 
he states that he does not feel bound to report to Congress (as the act 
requires) and would "withhold information the disclosure of which could 
impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of 
the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties".

Or take the contrast after Bush signed an overwhelmingly supported 
congressional bill last year outlawing the torture of detainees. On the face 
of it the new law was explicit, strengthening what Bush described as "values 
we hold dear" and extending a domestic ban on torture to cover US actions 
around the world. But the signing statement on December 30 carefully 
undermined that claim. It asserted that "the executive branch shall construe 
[the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the 
president ... as commander in chief," adding that this approach would 
"assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the president 
.... of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks". In 
other words, circumstances might arise in which torture might still be 
authorised.

The Bush White House did not invent the presidential signing statement; it 
goes back to the 19th century. But the frequency and ambition of Bush's 
signing statements go far beyond his predecessors. Whereas earlier 
presidents issued signing statements of a highly specific nature, those of 
Bush are repeatedly broad and unspecific. Above all, they make claims to 
enhanced executive power that impinge on profound issues of liberty such as 
torture or wiretapping.

Too late in the day for comfort, Bush's approach is coming under greater 
scrutiny. In February the bipartisan Constitution Project warned of "the 
risk of permanent and unchecked presidential power". Last week the American 
Bar Association announced an independent inquiry into the practice. A 
powerful article in the New York Review of Books by the veteran writer 
Elizabeth Drew has also given the subject higher saliency.

To their credit, even some Bush supporters are alarmed. If Bill Clinton had 
done what Bush is doing, the Republican senator Chuck Hagel has pointed out, 
Congress would be up in arms. If Bush were to bequeath the powers he claims 
to Hillary Clinton, the right would soon go berserk with indignation at the 
threat to American values. Which is why the most pertinent comment so far on 
the president's strategy has come from the anti-tax conservative Grover 
Norquist. He told Drew: "If you interpret the constitution's saying that the 
president is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything 
he wants and can ignore the laws, you don't have a constitution: you have a 
king."

It is not anti-American to warn about what Bush is doing. On the contrary, 
it is profoundly pro-American. In 1776 Americans issued their declaration of 
independence. They demanded a new form of government in place of the 
"repeated injuries and usurpations" to which they had been subjected. In the 
long list of grievances that followed, the first was that King George had 
"refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public 
good". That suddenly has a contemporary ring. Now, as then, America's 
problem is a usurping king called George.

martin.kettle at guardian.co.uk

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