Saturday, June 26, 2004
THE BUSH WHO WOULD BE CAESAR
by Al Gore, the former US Vice President, given June 24, 2004, at Georgetown University for the American Constitution Society. The full text is at Salon. (It is necessary to click through an advert)
"James Madison wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, "The Constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature."
"[The founders} were greatly influenced -- far more than we can imagine -- by a careful reading of the history and human dramas surrounding the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman republic. They knew, for example, that democracy disappeared in Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon in violation of the Senate's long prohibition against a returning general entering the city while still in command of military forces. Though the Senate lingered in form and was humored for decades, when Caesar impoliticly combined his military commander role with his chief executive role, the Senate -- and with it the Republic -- withered away."
"I am convinced that our founders would counsel us today that the greatest challenge facing our republic is not terrorism but how we react to terrorism, and not war, but how we manage our fears and achieve security without losing our freedom. I am also convinced that they would warn us that democracy itself is in grave danger if we allow any president to use his role as commander in chief to rupture the careful balance between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. Our current president has gone to war and has come back into "the city" and declared that our nation is now in a permanent state of war, which he says justifies his reinterpretation of the Constitution in ways that increase his personal power at the expense of Congress, the courts, and every individual citizen."
"So now, the president and the vice president are arguing with [the 9/11] commission, and they are insisting that the commission is wrong and they are right, and that there actually was a working cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida."
"The problem for the president is that he doesn't have any credible evidence to support his claim, and yet, in spite of that, he persists in making that claim vigorously"..."And I think it's particularly important because it is closely connected to the questions of constitutional power with which I began this speech."
"...it's so important particularly for President Bush to keep the American people from discovering that what he told them about the linkage between Iraq and al-Qaida isn't true. Among these Americans who still believe there is a linkage, there remains very strong support for the president's decision to invade Iraq. But among those who accept the commission's detailed finding that there is no connection, support for the war in Iraq dries up pretty quickly."
"President Bush and Vice President Cheney have decided to fight to the rhetorical death over whether or not there's a meaningful connection between Iraq and al-Qaida. They think that if they lose that argument and people see the truth, then they'll not only lose support for the controversial decision to go to war, but also lose some of the new power they've picked up from the Congress and the courts, and face harsh political consequences at the hands of the American people."
"As a result, President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein."
"If he is not lying, if they genuinely believe that, that makes them unfit in battle with al-Qaida. If they believe these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge? Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick."
"And at least some honest voices within the president's own party admitted as (m)uch. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a decorated war hero who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said point blank, "Saddam is not in league with al-Qaida ... I have not seen any intelligence that would lead me to connect Saddam Hussein with al-Qaida."
"But those voices did not stop the deliberate campaign to mislead America. Over the course of a year, the president and vice president used carefully crafted language to scare Americans into believing there was an imminent threat from an Iraq-armed al-Qaida."
"In the fall of 2002, the President told the country "You can't distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam."
"By the Spring, Secretary of State Powell was in front of the United Nations claiming a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network."
"So when the bipartisan 9/11 commission issued its report finding "no credible evidence" of an Iraq-al-Qaida connection, it should not have caught the White House off guard. Yet instead of the candor Americans need and deserve from their leaders, there have been more denials and more insistence without evidence."
"The President was even more brazen. He dismissed all questions about his statements by saying "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaida, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida." He provided no evidence."
"Friends of the administration tried mightily to rehabilitate their cherished but shattered linkage. John Lehman, one of the Republicans on the commission, offered what sounded like new evidence that a Saddam henchman had attended an al-Qaida meeting. But within hours, the commissions files yielded definitive evidence that it was another man with a similar name -- ironically capturing the near-miss quality of Bush's entire symbolic argument."
"But the damage they have done to our country is not limited to misallocation of military economic political resources. Whenever a chief executive spends prodigious amounts of energy convincing people of lies, he damages the fabric of democracy, and the belief in the fundamental integrity of our self-government."
"That creates a need for control over the flood of bad news, bad policies and bad decisions also explains their striking attempts to control news coverage."
"The administration works closely with a network of "rapid response" digital Brown Shirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for "undermining support for our troops." Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, was one of the first journalists to regularly expose the president's consistent distortions of the facts. Krugman writes, "Let's not overlook the role of intimidation. After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative of the President ... you had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation."
"The kinds of unnatural, undemocratic activities in which this administration has engaged, in order to aggrandize power, have included censorship of scientific reports, manipulation of budgetary statistics, silencing dissent, and ignoring intelligence. Although there have been other efforts by other presidents to encroach on the legitimate prerogatives of Congress and courts, there has never been this kind of systematic abuse of the truth and institutionalization of dishonesty as a routine part of the policy process."
"Two hundred and twenty years ago, John Adams wrote, in describing one of America's most basic founding principles, "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them ... to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men."