Thursday, April 13, 2006

What difference does public debate make when the administration has blockaded itself away from democracy?

There's never an unprovocative moment reading Glenn Greenwald, as he shows us again with his post, Does the debate over Iran matter? He makes the persuasive point that the participation we take for granted in democratic, national decision-making is made into a fool's errand by the administration's claims toward dictatorial powers.

In short, any debate over the proper pursuits of our government - including what to do about Iran - has to turn back into a debate over how democratic debate can once again matter in the guidance of our country. The only answer to that is to bring the administration under control, by Congress or the Supreme Court finally taking away the whiskey and shotguns figuratively away from Bush and literally away from Cheney, and telling the administration to shape up or ship out. And the best way to make that happen is to throw the Republican bums out of Congress this November.

As for Iran, Bush and Ahmedinejad are sordidly in each other's embrace now - each looking to the other to hurl feces and beat his chest, as the only hope of whipping up nationalist sentiment and salvaging his own clout at home.

I found a different interpretation, though, behind Mr. Greenwald's characterization that "The administration... sees its powers as being tantamount to those exercised by Abraham Lincoln..."

Actually, Bush has far surpassed the powers exercised by Lincoln, because the Constitution specifically provides that "Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it"; and furthermore, Lincoln wrote to Congress at the earliest reasonable opportunity asking it to retroactively authorize his actions - and thereby expressly acknowledged the supreme authority of Congress over the president's execution of his duties.

Yoo's and the DOJ's reading of the Constitution is willfully dishonest. No other possibility makes sense. Their position has been adopted because that's the legal advice Bush and Cheney were shopping for, in the same way their purported advice from their military commanders is only precisely the product of shopping for commanders willing to read them their fantasy script.

The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution... all... Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof", which manifestly includes the President. Conversely, it specifically obligates the President to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" - those same Laws that Congress has the sole authority to "make all" of.

Even further, in case that wasn't clear enough, the Constitution grants Congress the additional, exclusive power "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces", above and beyond the exlusive power to make all laws governing the actions of the executive. "Rules for government and regulation" defines a lot more particular, intrusive, hands-on, micromanagement than "merely" having sole authority to "make all Laws" for carrying out the executive function.

To take one example, the rules for the Patent & Trademark Office mandate what sizes of paper you may (8&1/2x11 or A4) or may not (anything else) use to submit anything to the Office. There is little if any limit to the closeness and intimacy of control implied by a sole authority to make rules and regulations, in addition to just laws, to administer an organization.

Even with Congress authorized to make all rules for the military, the Founders had debated whether the military was too great a threat to democratic control of government, and debated adding to that clause, "provided that in time of peace the army shall not consist of more than thousand men." (Aug. 18, 1787, Constitutional Convention)

In his Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), Joseph Story explained that this clause was added without objection, and was motivated specifically to avoid the type of executive control of the military that they had seen so abused by King George of England: "The whole power is far more safe in the hands of congress, than of the executive; since otherwise the most summary and severe punishments might be inflicted at the mere will of the executive."

The President, the military, and the entire executive branch were intended by the Founders to be the humble handmaidens of Congress, the branch closest to the People. The gang in power now haven't exaggerated the Constitutional role of the president; they have declared open rebellion against it.

(This got a lot bigger than I'd planned on for a comment on Mr. Greenwald's site, so I cross-posted.)

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