On the wrong track

By  |  January 18, 2006

If American history has taught us anything, it is that sooner or later most presidents act as if they are above the law. George W. Bush has taken this unfortunate tendency to dispiriting and dangerous new lows.

Much of the nation is focused on the fact that Bush violated a federal law that explicitly required him to get warrants — easily obtained — from a special and secret US court before spying domestically on American citizens suspected of planning acts of terrorism. Although that court has rarely refused to grant a warrant, Bush chose to ignore the easy and lawful way and opted instead for the easier and illegal way. His way. And he has ordered the Justice Department to prosecute the whistle blower who exposed him.

Bush’s contempt for the law continues. He recently took administrative action that will, he believes, allow him to ignore the anti-torture provisions that Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona wrote into the latest Defense Appropriations Act.

Never mind that after Bush initially resisted McCain’s provision he pretended ultimately to endorse it. Bush is, after all, a proven liar. He lied to the nation about governing from the center. He lied to the nation about when he made up his mind to wage war on Iraq. He lied to the nation about Iraq’s possession of a nuclear-weapons program and about other weapons of mass destruction. He lied to political opponents like Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in order to get support for so-called educational-reform legislation. So why should it surprise us that he misrepresented himself when he claimed to join fellow Republican McCain’s attempt to stop US-sponsored torture?

With very little fanfare, Bush has signed an administrative “statement” that says, in effect, that he intends to ignore the anti-terror provision that Congress saw fit to give the power of law.

To the best of our knowledge, only the WashingtonPost and Slate have taken note of this development.

Ronald Reagan began this dubious practice in the hopes of heading off, or at least mitigating, judicial challenges when the executive branch ignores legislative directives. Bush’s hope is that by saying the McCain amendment might inhibit his powers as commander in chief, he will be free to ignore its provisions. The courts have yet to grapple with this sort of presidential dodge, but his Supreme Court nominee Joseph Alito employed it as a lawyer in the Reagan administration, and we should assume that Alito and his conservative brothers on the court will rubber-stamp its practice.

Bush may not be a dictator, but he has clearly set the nation on a path that could result in a future dictatorship. He is a smug, self-satisfied, and self-justifying opportunist who has no respect for any of the legitimate checks and balances that our system of government seeks to impose on the presidency. He is a dangerous man.
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