Monday, July 17, 2006

How Bush wreaks havoc on American democracy

Not too long ago, I wrote about The Boston Globe's examination of Bush's signing statements, that is, statements that he (or any other president) attaches to legislation. (See here.)

In some cases, and certainly in the most disturbing cases, Bush's signing statements amount to nothing more than admissions of future law-ignoring (and hence lawbreaking). But, overall, he has made the signing statement a key feature of his presidency. According to a good piece in the Chicago Tribune by University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein:

Since he took office, Bush has used this device to object to more than 500 provisions in more than 100 pieces of legislation -- nearly as many as the 575 signing statements issued by all of his predecessors combined. In these statements, the president often has claimed that the new laws violate the Constitution and signaled his intention not to enforce certain provisions, despite having signed them into law.

This is all part of the Cheney-Addington effort to expand presidential power, particularly in the area of national security (and the war on terror), at the expense of the other two branches of government. (For my recent post on Bush's authoritarianism in this regard, see here.) What's the problem? Epstein puts it well:

America's greatness is due in no small measure to our system of government, in which power and authority are deliberately divided. The separation of powers is not a mere "technicality." It is the centerpiece of our Constitution. Our freedoms depend upon it in the future, just as they have in the past.

Bush deliberately wants to un-divide power and authority. His approval ratings may be low, and he may have nothing in the way of a domestic agenda, and Iraq may be going badly, and the situation in Israel and Lebanon may be escalating, and Iran and North Korea may be developing potentially devastating nuclear programs, but Bush still has over two years left in office and he may have many more signing statements to make. More havoc may yet be wreaked on American democracy.

Bush and those advising him evidently view the separation of powers as a "technicality". Which means that they have little regard for the Constitution and little respect for America's freedoms.

In placing himself above the Constitution, Bush has violated his oath of office. He has not preserved, protected, and defended the Constitution, he has to the best of his ability trampled all over it.

(See also Kevin Drum.)

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