“When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
— Richard M. Nixon
President Bush’s penchant for authoritarianism — for executive power unchecked by either Congress or the courts — has been laid bare by his aggressive and unapologetic defense of the indefensible: the secret surveillance of Americans without warrants. Perhaps most troublingly, the system is set up in such a way that the intelligence could have been gathered legally had the president cared to follow the law.
If the smoke signals from Washington are correct, it looks as if Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, a strong supporter of unchecked presidential prerogative, will win approval. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely that Bush’s reconfigured, Republican-friendly Supreme Court will curb an arrogant president determined to trample on safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure provided by the Fourth Amendment.
It’s up to Congress to cut this imperial presidency down to size. Bush should be investigated and, if not impeached, at least censured — something Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan has already suggested.
Even without the latest outrage of warrantless domestic spying, the case against Bush is clear: he lied to the nation and to Congress about not having made up his mind about invading Iraq prior to the war, when in fact he had; made false statements to Congress about Iraq buying uranium; violated the War Powers Resolution and misused government funds intended for Afghanistan to jump-start his Iraq adventure; violated existing federal law and international treaties prohibiting torture; and retaliated against those who had the guts to blow the whistle on contract abuses committed in Iraq by Vice-President Dick Cheney’s old-firm, Halliburton.
The stench from Bush’s catalogue of slimy deceit has not been strong enough to weaken the resolve of conservatives who support him. But his contempt for the Constitution has unnerved some of the most ardent right-wingers, such as Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, son of Ronald Reagan’s former chief of staff. One of Wall Street’s favorite publications, Barron’s, has expressed its outrage. And even columnist George Will, a Tory’s Tory, has arched a disapproving eyebrow.
Abuse of intelligence and illegal wiretapping were among the articles of impeachment that ultimately drove Richard Nixon from the White House. We won’t be so lucky with Bush. And if our fantasies were ever to become reality, the nation would be stuck with the even worse horror of Cheney, Bush’s partner in high crimes.
The most the nation can hope for, it seems, is that the expected Senate hearings on the illegal spying will result in a slap in the face for Bush. That’s a rather pathetic constitutional safeguard. And Bush, who literally believes that he is doing God’s bidding, will shrug it off with the sanctimonious piety one has come to expect from God’s elect.
Pity poor Mitt Romney. First the governor says that his ancestral home of Michigan would have provided a better launching pad for his political career, and then he moans that the local media are making him out to be more conservative than he really is.