2005/12/19

Latest justifications

Here's an interesting exchange:

QUESTION: I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a president during wartime.

And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

BUSH: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.

There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters.

There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time.

And on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.

This is an awesome responsibility, to make decisions on behalf of the American people. And I understand that. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor a program such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States.

To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.

Well, to say that people are held back from doing what they please by an oath they took earlier is to say that they take their responsbilities very seriously and that they aren't re-interpreting their limitations out of existence and not thinking up ways to get away with doing what they planned to do all along. Unfortunately, the history of presidents and senators and governors, etc., since the founding of our republic and of different rulers stretching back into antiquity does not give us any comfort as to how well rulers can be expected to behave when there's no one there to keep an eye on them. Bush isn't disputing the history of American presidents for the last 30 years, he's disputing the history of rulers since the dawn of recorded history.

"We're talking to Congress all the time." is a very nice-sounding, comforting sound bite until one reads what Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader, has to say about his "notification":

I personally received a single very short briefing on this program earlier this year prior to its public disclosure. That briefing occurred more than three years after the President said this program began.

The Administration briefers did not seek my advice or consent about the program, and based on what I have heard publicly since, key details about the program apparently were not provided to me.

Under current Administration briefing guidelines, members of Congress are informed after decisions are made, have virtually no ability to either approve or reject a program, and are prohibited from discussing these types of programs with nearly all of their fellow members and all of their staff.

So, yeah, sure, a very few Senators got briefed, but if they weren't permitted to tell any of their constituents or even their fellow Senators or Congresspeople, what the heck kind of check or balance does that constitute? Bush's people apparently didn't even tell Senator Reid the full story.

So no, I don't think the actions that Bush describes amount to "oversight" in any meaningful sense. I completely agree that his actions constitute "unchecked power" and that yes indeed, he acted as a dictator.

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