THOLOS OF ATHENA

Saturday, January 14, 2006

THE LITTLE KING

Apparently, the pen that President Bush is using to sign bills into law is filled with disappearing ink. With the use of “signing statements,” he is asserting his right to either revise or completely ignore, if he chooses, anything he puts his name to. So far, he has done this with over 500 pieces of legislation, including the recent ban on torture, which he signed last month.

What's going on, here? For one thing, apparently, it seems the President now gets to pick and choose whatever laws he will obey. It also means our corruption is out in the open, now. For instance, when our government was still conducting “extraordinary renditions” (kidnapping), and torturing people in secret, we were entitled to hope that something might be done about it. Now, the President reserves the right to disregard the torture ban whenever it suits him. And he's saying it straight out.

He also says he has the right to spy on American citizens, which we just learned he's been doing for the past four years, in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. He freely admits breaking the law and defies Congress to do anything about it. Bush's Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, appears to have no interest in investigating this crime, but seeks instead to ferret out and indict the leakers for exposing the criminal.

Question: Why hasn't this man been impeached? As I recall from my high school civics class, it's not all that easy to get bills passed through both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States. Why go to all that trouble, if he's just going to do whatever he feels like doing from now on? Come to think of it, what do we need all these congressmen for? Kind of a wasted expense, isn't it?

Is this what they meant when they said they wanted to “get the government off our backs?”

Some thirty years ago, another president—Richard Nixon—invoked almost the identical stock phrases and euphemisms that Bush and Cheney now employ to justify their lawbreaking. Phrases like, “national security” and that old chestnut, “executive privilege.”

Compared to Bush's list of crimes, the break-in and attempted wire-tap of the Democratic National Committee by Nixon's little gang of thugs now seems almost quaint. Yes, and he spied on us as well, through the same National Security Agency that Bush has been using. You can read all about it in Nixon's Articles of Impeachment.

The difference between that time and now is immense. In those days, the President found himself head to head with a real and viable Congress—both Democrats and Republicans—who took violations of the law seriously. The man who lead the charge was a feisty seventy-six-year-old senator from North Carolina, Sam Irvin. In his role as chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, Irvin became something of a folk hero, spicing his questions of witnesses with equal parts of the Bible, the Constitution and Shakespeare. When it came to cross-examining stone-walling conspirators, such as H.R. Haldeman and John Erhlichman, Irvin's “b.s.” detector was always in play. You knew the whistles were going off when his eyebrows shot for the roof and his jowls trembled.

When Nixon initially refused to let his aides testify, citing “executive privilege,” Irvin snapped: “Divine Right went out with the American Revolution and doesn't belong to White House aides. What meat do they eat that makes them grow so great? I don't think we have any such thing as royalty or nobility that exempts them. That is not executive privilege. That is executive poppy-cock.”

Irvin said that Watergate for the first time sought to destroy the integrity of the process. “If the many allegations made to this date are true,” he said, “then the burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate were, in effect, breaking into the home of every citizen of the United States. What they were seeking to steal was not the jewels, money, or other precious property of American citizens, but something much more valuable—their right to vote in a free election.”

Irvin likened the mindset of Nixon's henchmen to the Gestapo. Referring to former Attorney General John Mitchell, and former White House aide, John Erhlichman, both convicted for their roles in the conspiracy, Irvin said, “I don't think either one of them would have recognized the Bill of Rights if they met it on the street in broad daylight under a cloudless sky.”

A pity there are no Sam Irvins in our current Congress. Thus far, they have either actively participated or else passively sat on their hands and watched while the Bush-Cheney “cabal” has looted and trashed the place.

If it is true that the law is now what the President says it is, then where does that leave us? It seems to me we are at a cross-road, very similar to the one Nixon brought us to. And what we are faced with is whether we will continue to have a government based on our old Constitution and existing laws and rights as “free citizens,” or if we will trade it in for something entirely new and different.

Richard Nixon once said, “When the President does it, that means it's not illegal.” And Congress answered. How will they answer now?

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