After the odious John Ashcroft and the reprehensible Alberto Gonzales, the idea that former federal judge Michael Mukasey may soon be confirmed as US attorney general is almost a welcome relief. But it should not be. Just because Mukasey is probably the best nominee the nation can hope for from this White House, that does not mean he is what the government needs, or what the nation deserves.
At his recent Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing, Mukasey actually answered most questions put to him, and offered an admirable promise: that he would resign rather than violate the US Constitution. This is a novel idea for most officials in the upper reaches of the Bush–Cheney regime. So even if Mukasey’s promise turns out to be limp lip service, there is a degree of wonder in the fact that a Republican cabinet candidate would even recognize that principle should trump politics — at least on occasion.
But Mukasey also showed his flaws. Namely, he waffled and dodged shamefully when it came to discussing torture by water boarding. Plus, he shares the Republicans’ obsession with voter fraud, at least if it’s perpetuated by Democrats — Mukasey doesn’t seem to find allegations of GOP voter fraud so bad at all.
And, as is the case with voter fraud, it is doubtful that Mukasey will break ranks with the Bush White House on the issue of executive privilege, a now almost-time-honored practice that has absolutely no basis in constitutional law. The Bushies (as well as many other modern presidents) have invoked the privilege to curtail congressional investigation of questionable White House practices, most recently regarding the roles of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers in the politically motivated dismissals of US Attorneys.
Dwarfing the issue of getting to the bottom of six years of compromised and possibly criminal administration within the Justice Department itself, is the simple question of whether the president is above the law. Or, to put it another way, must the president obey the laws that Congress has enacted? Mukasey, in effect, says the president must — most of the time. His exception to this rule is the loophole that the president can ignore the law “to defend the nation.”
That is a very bad answer, so bad as to be unacceptable. Mukasey should not be confirmed on the basis of that wrong-headed response.
The president may be the commander in chief, but even a quick skim of the Constitution shows that it is Congress that is charged to “provide for the common defense.” In other words, Congress’s power to make laws and appropriate funds is superior to the president’s power to do as he sees fit, or merely as he pleases. This sounds like a radical idea, but it is not. The radical idea here is the one that Bush holds: that the president is above the law.
Deval’s Barack endorsement
There is more to Governor Deval Patrick’s endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama than race and similarly challenging backgrounds.
Both men are mavericks.
Because Patrick is governor, it is easy to forget that his political base is among Massachusetts insurgents.
Obama’s presidential campaign, too, was born of revolt — against the Republican White House of George Bush. But as the race has unfolded and Hillary Clinton has firmly established her front-runner status, Obama’s candidacy has taken on a new dimension. His campaign offers a place for Democrats and independents who may not reject Clinton, but who want someone else.
The crowd of between 9000 and 10,000 who gathered on Boston Common to listen to Patrick formally endorse Obama on Tuesday night bore a marked resemblance to the sorts of crowds Howard Dean attracted when he made his presidential bid four years ago: young, energetic, well educated, and desirous of change. A seasoned political observer could note that Obama’s crowd was full of supporters who — if the clock were turned back — would be rallying for Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, or George McGovern.
Patrick’s Obama endorsement is significant in that Massachusetts is a source of both campaign contributions for national operations and manpower for the New Hampshire primary. But on a purely local level, it underscores Patrick’s commitment to change. Despite the obvious ease that Patrick and Obama displayed with each other at the Boston Common rally, this had to be a tough choice for Patrick. After all, it was then-president Bill Clinton who gave Patrick the Justice Department perch that was his claim to political experience before he was elected governor. A more cold-blooded sort could have opted not to endorse one of the candidates by claiming that Clinton and Obama were too much like political kin.
The seemingly endless presidential campaign has, in fact, barely begun. But if Obama is to have a chance of besting Clinton, he will have to show strongly in Iowa and New Hampshire. Patrick is betting that his support will help Obama by supplying him with energy, contributors, and volunteers. If there is a lesson here in Massachusetts, it is that, beneath his well-tailored and well-spoken exterior, Patrick is a bit of a gambler, willing to play what, at the moment, looks to be a bit of a long shot. That is not the stuff of an establishmentarian.