The imperial presidency

The NY Times editors drop the kid gloves. This is great.

Mr. Bush, however, seems to see no limit to his imperial presidency. First, he issued a constitutionally ludicrous “signing statement” on the McCain bill. The message: Whatever Congress intended the law to say, he intended to ignore it on the pretext the commander in chief is above the law. That twisted reasoning is what led to the legalized torture policies, not to mention the domestic spying program.

Then Mr. Bush went after the judiciary, scrapping the Levin-Graham bargain. The solicitor general informed the Supreme Court last week that it no longer had jurisdiction over detainee cases. It said the court should drop an existing case in which a Yemeni national is challenging the military tribunals invented by Mr. Bush’s morally challenged lawyers after 9/11. The administration is seeking to eliminate all other lawsuits filed by some of the approximately 500 men at Gitmo, the vast majority of whom have not been shown to pose any threat.

Both of the offensive theories at work here – that a president’s intent in signing a bill trumps the intent of Congress in writing it, and that a president can claim power without restriction or supervision by the courts or Congress – are pet theories of Judge Samuel Alito, the man Mr. Bush chose to tilt the Supreme Court to the right.

The administration’s behavior shows how high and immediate the stakes are in the Alito nomination, and how urgent it is for Congress to curtail Mr. Bush’s expansion of power. Nothing in the national consensus to combat terrorism after 9/11 envisioned the unilateral rewriting of more than 200 years of tradition and law by one president embarked on an ideological crusade.

I have no moral authority to challenge the Chinese government for its police state tactics if I don’t do the same for my own country. Bush truly would like America to be a textbook definition of a police state, where the ruler can imprison at will and answer to no authority based on Presidential Infallibility. This is so dangerous, so unprecedented and so wrong that I can only ask incredulously, How come no one seems to be up in arms?

America is, of course, still not a Chinese-style police state. But that’s not for Bush’s lack of trying. So far he’s limited these draconian policies to a small group of brown people that most Americans don’t care about, especially if they’re labelled “terrorist.” But we all know the Niemoller quote about the Nazis:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

How come so few are speaking out?

The Discussion: 35 Comments

“How come so few are speaking out?”

Because they don’t like to admit their system isn’t perfect?

The same could be said about China – why do so many people defend or tolerate what goes on there? It isn’t just fear. It’s because they have to admit that the system might not be working, and that is embarrassing/a disgrace to them.

January 15, 2006 @ 6:49 am | Comment

This reminds me of an old story.

January 15, 2006 @ 8:41 am | Comment


The effective superiority of the Executive’s interpretation of the law and the Constitution is nothing new, and Bush will get away with it until the Court smacks him down or Congress threatens to cut off his funding. Speaking of the Court, it effectively defines its own jurisdiction, and previous majorities (operating under FDR or Truman, I think) have renounced jurisdiction overseas: the Tokyo war crimes tribunal is one such instance. It might defer to the Executive, but the Roberts Court could assert or re-assert jurisdiction: it’s a court’s prerogative to change its mind.

Personally, I hope someone smacks him hard and repeatedly, but until then he’s operating more or less within precedent.

January 15, 2006 @ 10:44 am | Comment

Where is the precedent? You really have to show me when a president was allowed to imprison at will and hold people indefinitely without charges. When Roosevelt oversteppwed his bounds, the courts held him in check, and he complied.

January 15, 2006 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

Gordon, the sky really is falling. When the president of the United States says he can go above and beyond the law at whim, we have in place a dangerous precedent. I somehow suspect you wouldn’t be so passive if this were Bill or Hillary Clinton making such proclamations.

Very few people are affected directly by Bush’s lawlessness. Just as, percentage-wise, few in China are affected by the random arrests of cyber-dissidents or the crackdowns on rebelling peasants. Don’t you think it’s hypocritical to denounce China for its lawlessness by excusing the lawlessness of our Impreial President? Address the issues instead of speaking in generalities: does the president have the right to declare himself above the law? Does he answer to no one?

January 15, 2006 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

Plenty of people are outraged, Richard, including some of our political leaders – Reid, Pelosi & Dean haven’t minced words here, and Gore is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow, introduced by Republican Bob Barr, who is beyond outraged by this Administration’s violations of civil liberties and due process. The problem comes in transforming our outrage into effective action.

Polls are looking very good for the Dems in the mid-term elections – let’s see how that translates into seats captured. Without a majority somewhere, I don’t know how we stop Bush. There are too few Republicans who are willing to break party discipline and go after him.

January 16, 2006 @ 12:46 am | Comment

About this puerile, Peter Pan “Commander in Chief” nonsense:

The old Roman word for “Emperor” (Imperator) meant exactly that: “Commander in Chief”. Julius Caesar was the first one to use it, when he started a military dictatorship and destroyed the Republic.

Paradoxically, the US Constitution made the (CIVILIAN) President the “Commander in Chief”, precisely to AVOID Caesarism. The original idea was to affirm that the civilian leadership is higher than any military leaders – actually the idea was to DISTINGUISH the civilian government from the military. The Bushies, with their childish pablum about “President as Commander in Chief” are actually VIOLATING the original intention of the Constitution.

F—ing toy soldier, Peter Pan in a codpiece.

January 16, 2006 @ 1:46 am | Comment

“How come so few are speaking out?”

1) People who speak out get labeled traitors, liberals and unAmerican.

2) People in America are isolated and often don’t see the bigger picture. How many people in the US actually read British newspapers, or even have the language skills needed to French, German or Arabic newspapers?

Too many people in the US only hear one side of the story and only know one side of the arguments.

Aguably, this is just as bad as in China (in some cases at least), except the news is provided by Megacorperations like fox and CNN rather than by the state.

January 16, 2006 @ 5:08 am | Comment

“You really have to show me when a president was allowed to imprison at will and hold people indefinitely without charges.”

Internment in World War II

January 16, 2006 @ 5:50 am | Comment

The internment is something I’ve condemned loud and long here. That’s an example of an injustice. There are many others, too. It would only qualify as a precedent to what Bush is doing, however, if the laws were passed to stop it but Roosevelt said, “I’m doing it anyway.” That’s what’s happening with the FISA law and the McCain anti-torture legislation. Read the NY Times article I linked to. Had Roosevelt been challenged on the internment and said he could do it despite the laws in place, I’d consider it as a precedent.

January 16, 2006 @ 6:24 am | Comment

There’s only one word applicable to your view of the President: delusional.
Well, and paranoid.

January 16, 2006 @ 11:46 am | Comment

Two words, Godfrey. And I’d apply the first one to you.

January 16, 2006 @ 7:28 pm | Comment

You really have to show me when a president was allowed to imprison at will and hold people indefinitely without charges. When Roosevelt oversteppwed his bounds, the courts held him in check, and he complied.

Well, let’s see . . .

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and held thousand of Americans in jail and in prison camps, many under appalling conditions without even the pretense of filing charges. Their crime? Either engaging in, or being suspected of sympathy for, hostilities against the US.

Roosevelt rounded up US citizens and resident of Japanese descent and imprisoned them simply for their ancestory. And, your assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, the courts not only didn’t restrain him, they gave him their blessing.

Honesty, if you folks really believe that George Bush wants to turn the US into a police state, you ought to get therapy.

Perhaps the fact that you are now lauding the wisdom of Bob freakin’ Barr (of Mena Airport, Vince Foster and watermelon shooting fame) should give you pause. . . .

Oh yes, and nice comeback to Godfrey, Lisa. The equivalent of “I know you are but what am I?” It’s refreshing to see that, while the issues may change, your stupidity is eternal.

January 16, 2006 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

There are, again, plenty of examples of injustices and abuse. Once again, I’m asking you to show me where a president was presented with a law and said he would sign it but that he reserved the right not to follow it.

January 16, 2006 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

And finally, I thought we had come a long way since the Japanese internment and Lincoln’s actions. Weren’t we supposed to have learned? Don’t most Americans now feel the internment was in every way a terribly bad thing and one of the most shameful episodes in American history?

January 16, 2006 @ 9:28 pm | Comment

Ming, Ming, Ming…or should I say, my old friend, Conrad, whose MO never changes? What is your obsession with me about, anyway? It’s really kind of MAJ level freaky.

January 16, 2006 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

One of my very favorite things about die-hard (some might say, “fanatical”) Bush supporters these days is their assertion that anyone who disagrees with them is some radical lefty-fringe minority, when in fact, every recent opinion poll shows that a majority of Americans now disagrees with Bush’s policies, questions his competency and is concerned with where he’s “leading” the country.

It’s really almost cute, in a delusional sort of way, if it weren’t so dangerous.

Al Gore (oh, go ahead and bring on the smears, we’ve heard ’em all before) had a great speech today about the constitutional crisis caused by the Bush Administration’s assumption of Imperial authority. You can watch it at or read the remarks as prepared over at Raw Story. Firedoglake, Booman tribune, Digby, etc. all link to it as well.

If you are interested and can’t find your way over to any of these sites, let me know and I’ll dig up the URLs…

January 16, 2006 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

Ming, cut the crap. Can’t you make an argument without calling someone “stupid” or a “moral pygmy” (one of your favorites)? It does nothing to further your argument.

January 16, 2006 @ 10:36 pm | Comment

He likes calling me stupid, Richard. Perhaps his form of foreplay?

January 16, 2006 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Lisa is onto something. He has to call her “stupid” because intelligent women make him impotent.

January 16, 2006 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

And we haven’t even gotten to my good looks…

January 16, 2006 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

“How come so few are speaking out?”

Democrats Abroad are speaking out. Google us in your city.

The wacko right wing-nuts have captured America. This year, the patriots are going to restore the US Constitution to its rightful place of honor.

Impeach Dubious.

January 17, 2006 @ 12:31 am | Comment

Richard, I do not disagree with your basic stance on what Bush is doing but there are “precedents” of sorts for this sort of thing. Not “precedents” as in legal justifications of the current Bush actions, but bald “precedents” as in “this kind of stuff has happened before”.

Presidential signing statements, as you will know, are very far from a novelty. Bush has issued hundreds. Clinton liked them too. Often they are used for political or rhetorical effect rather than the type of far reaching challenge that we are discussing here.

But you asked for a situation in which the law forbids something and the President says he is doing it anyway.

How about Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee? In Worcester vs. Georgia (1832) the Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign thus making removal laws that Jackson was pursuing invalid. Justice John Marshall, said the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation would be illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties made. President Andrew Jackson, who had the executive responsibility of enforcement of the laws, responded, “John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can.” That seems like rhetoric comparable to Bush’s (a poor reflection on Bush that he is in such company). In practice, Jackson did try to at least get some kind of a legal fig leaf for himself. In 1835 a very small faction of the Cherokee Nation signed the Treaty of New Echota. The Treaty violated Cherokee law, a nation that had been declared sovereign by the Supreme court. Chief John Ross gathered 16,000 signatures of Cherokees who opposed removal. However, the US Senate ratified the treaty and the removal of the Cherokees went ahead despite the Supreme Court judgment.

In 1838 thousands of Cherokees were forcibly removed from their their land. 4000 people are reported to have died in transit.

[Of course, the reason Roosevelt did not have to reject a law against internment was because the Congress ratified the congressional order and because the Supreme Court repeatedly backed him, despite minority Supreme court opinions stating clearly that it was a constitutional nonsensus.]

January 17, 2006 @ 1:46 am | Comment

Signing a law is more than a “signing statement.” Laws mean something. Signing a law and then saying in so many words that you will disobey it as you see fit is unprecedented. Repeat, unprecedented. Breaking the law is not unprecedented. Lots of examples. Like Watergate. But that’s not the kind of thing Bush did. he actually said, publicly, he didn’t feel confined by a law passed by the US Congress. He would ignore it if he felt it was necessary. Presidential Infallibility.

I see we’re doing the old game of looking back centuries ago. As I said, I thought we learned from the past, and didn’t do those naughty things anymore.

January 17, 2006 @ 2:40 am | Comment

“The Emperor cannot be examined.”

– Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China, to his Scottish tutor.

January 17, 2006 @ 2:48 am | Comment

From Gore’s great speech today:
A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution – our system of checks and balances – was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: “The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution – an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, “On Common Sense” ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America’s alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that “the law is king.”

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

January 17, 2006 @ 2:52 am | Comment

“We declare, say, define, and pronounce, that it is a necessity of salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Pope of Rome.”

– Pope Boniface VIII, in his (signed statement) Papal Bull entitled “Unam Sanctum” (circa 1300 AD)

January 17, 2006 @ 2:54 am | Comment

Paradoxically enough (as he’s a nominal “Protestant”, which is not to say a good one, or a good Christian of any kind), GW Bush is reminding me of why America’s Founding Fathers were so hostile to the Pope and to all similar kinds of Hierophants.

January 17, 2006 @ 2:58 am | Comment

As I said, I generally agree with your stance on this but I was just trying to add a bit of shading. You obviously, perhaps rightly, want to talk in broader brush strokes. Yup, what George Bush is doing is bad and perhaps innovatively bad in some respects

But since you acuse me of “playing games” in my last post, forgive me if I point out that I have only answered the posts you have made a face value each time. You have changed what you have asked for subtly each time:

First you said: “Where is the precedent? You really have to show me when a president was allowed to imprison at will and hold people indefinitely without charges. When Roosevelt overstepped his bounds, the courts held him in check, and he complied.” To which the straightforward answer was to point to Internment. The statement about Roosevelt being held in check by the courts is factually wrong in my opinion. The court failed to hold him in check as he interned people indefinitely without charge.

Then you changed your tackslightly. In your second post the president not only had to have been allowed to imprison at will and hold people indefinitely without charges, he also had to have been challenged on it and had to say that he would do it despite the laws in place: “Had Roosevelt been challenged on the internment and said he could do it despite the laws in place, I’d consider it as a precedent.”

So I quoted the very famous example of Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee, in which a presidents attempt to deprive people of their freedom was challenged and pronounced unconstitutional and contrary to the existing law by the Supreme court. To use your words, Jackson “said he could do it despite the laws in place.”
To be fair, you haven’t changed tack again in your latest post, you have simply dismissed my answer to your question on the basis that it was “centuries ago”. You say Bush is different because: “he actually said, publicly, he didn’t feel confined by a law passed by the US Congress”. Well, Jackson said the same.

I am not playing games and maybe with this changing of your challenge, we are getting closer to what is new and noxious about what Bush has done with this law.

By the way, if you have any time for any more finickity shading read this ( about the long history of formal “signing statements” of the sort Bush has made. As I said before, his seems to be new in its direct challenge but there has been a development here.

January 17, 2006 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Repeat, no US president has ever declared himself above the law. They may have broken laws. But they never said the law did not apply to them. Get it? ๐Ÿ™‚

January 17, 2006 @ 5:19 pm | Comment

Saying “repeat” a lot isn’t going to make this as simple as you want it to be. What exactly does President Jackson’s comment that: “John Marshall [ie. the Supreme Court] has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can” mean if it is not a barefaced statement that the executive does not have to abide by the law as laid down in the constitution and by Congress. Jackson then acted on this stated principle and, although he sought some legal figleaf, effectively ignored the existing law. That is an extreme example, as perhaps is Bush’s latest signing statement, but the truth is that battles between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive over the demarcation of their roles and responsibilities have been a constant throughout the history of the US. Indeed, the constitutional framework is designed to foster such battles. Again, though, I repeat I am not disagreeing with your basic view that this is a bad and perhaps partially novel departure.

January 17, 2006 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

Ahh, Other Lisa. Foreplay indeed. Brilliant.

January 18, 2006 @ 1:06 am | Comment

Okay, okay, I give up, presidents 150 years ago or more also once kind of did something remotely similar but didn’t say in so many words they’d disregard the law if they saw fit but kind of implied it in their actions sort of. Basta.

January 18, 2006 @ 1:40 am | Comment

No didn’t “imply it in their actions”. Said explicitly that they would disregard the law and constitution. But, anyway, let’s drop this. I think we agree on the general point.

January 18, 2006 @ 3:59 am | Comment

i was reading one of the above comments when i came about Buyo’s comment regarding native americans.

That comment absolutely disgusted me. I am native american and i am so sick and tired of people referring to my ancestor’s plight in order to demonize America.

Its always “America did this”. Of course, America is not without its flaws, but anything that is created by humans will never be perfect. However, before bashing America, take a look at what other countries have done to their indigenous. Mexico for example has almost brought the Aztec into extinction. And by that i mean pure-bloods. Japan’s indigenous are non-existant. These thick-bearding Japanese are no longer seen on mainland Japan.

Yes, America has done some things that many people do not agree with, however, i emplore all of you to take a look around and realize just how naive you are being. Nothing human about this world is perfect and nothing ever will be.

Stop being Naive. America is the greatest nation this world has ever seen and while it might not be ideal, it certainly is closest to being there.

I disagree with the whole “Bush is bad” idea that is present in this conversation. As president who must do what is in America’s best interests regardless of international law. It’s called looking out for number 1. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Regardless of whether or not you agree with him, we need to realize that he has good intentions.

January 31, 2006 @ 10:26 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.