Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, September 21, 2006


The general buzz about the White House's attempts to coerce Congress to do its bidding with regard to warrantless surveillance, acceptance of torture and kangaroo court military tribunals is that, while it's not likely to see definitive legislation before the elections, the general trend is that legislation (in the Senate, Specter's bill, in the House, Heather Wilson's bill) will give the White House some or most of what it wanted, in exchange for increased Congressional oversight.

Now, the first thing to be said about this is that the Bush White House has studiously ignored all demands by Congress in the past for access to information necessary for oversight. From that, one could reasonably expect that the Bushies won't honor any such agreements now.

The second thing about this kabuki performance is that it will release the Bushies from previous wrongdoing and, basically, legitimize illegality.

In the name of what, no one will say for the record. Democrats have pretty much left this up to the Repugs with supposed national security creds--Warner, Graham and McCain in the Senate, and Wilson in the House.

What no one--and especially any Democrat very loudly--wants to say is that there should be no bills justifying show trials, warrantless eavesdropping or acquiescence to legalized torture.

Unfortunately, this is a reflection of a longstanding tendency of Congress to never say no, absolutely no. In this case, I'm sure some in Congress will say they are averting a Constitutional crisis (something they should have encouraged a long time before Bush's power had become consolidated), or that they have the obligation to serve the President in wartime.

Neither of those arguments hold any water, for manifold reasons. The very first, of course, is that Congress has not declared war--Bush did, unilaterally. The second, less obvious, is that Bush is seizing power, not sharing it, and that has been his and Cheney's modus operandi even before the attacks of 9/11, something that those in Congress should have resisted--as an institutional imperative--right from the start, but did not out of purely partisan loyalties.

Bush has already far exceeded the excesses of Richard Nixon, and yet, he is still, in effect, ordering Congress and the courts to give in to his demands for yet more power. He's getting that cooperation because his program of instilling fear in the public has been most effective with members of Congress. Confoundingly, individual members of that body are fearful of the political consequences in an election year of defying a corrupt, unpopular, aggressively authoritarian and possibly delusional President bent on the acquisition of more and more Executive power at the expense of the Constitution.

Does that make sense? Only to a Congress which is collectively unable or unwilling to say: "no, absolutely not, beyond this point, for the good of the country, we will not tread." When both the Executive and Congress are in defiance of the Constitution, and the courts do not, out of ideological and partisan prejudice, demand redress and remand those exulting in Executive excess for trial, the nation is lost. The Constitution--the basis for the country itself--then truly becomes, as George Bush is reputed to have said, "just a piece of paper."


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