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Time To Create Some Martyrs

by danps Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 06:34:34 AM EST

Congress has been timorously asking for the President to observe our systems of checks and balances to little effect.  It is now time for action, even if it means some big names on the right become lauded as fallen heroes.

For more on pruning back executive power see Pruning Shears.


Our President seems to believe not in oversight but in "accountability moments" every four years when the population gives a strict up-or-down judgment on his performance.  A thumbs up means a mandate for the entire platform.  In some cases like Social Security and immigration the changes are shot down by a growing popular revolt, but essentially the whole package is considered affirmed.  At that point Congress passes laws as directed by the President to properly implement the platform, and each policy is a black box to be blessed in the broadest possible terms with no debate or review involved.  If Congress doesn't like that setup it is free to use the power of the purse to shut off funding and force voters to pick sides; the loser gets run into a ditch.

The results of such an audacious concept have been especially clear this week.  First up is Seymour Hersh's blockbuster article in the New Yorker describing how the administration has bypassed Congress in its efforts to begin a war with Iran.  Basically, Congress authorized money for covert operations to destabilize the Iranian government.  Covert ops go through the CIA, but the CIA is required to report to Congress and is also the intelligence agency with the least enthusiasm for helping the White House invent convenient stories.  Probably either of these is unacceptable and together are intolerable.  So the activities were funnelled through the military, and suddenly no one on Capitol Hill needed to be told anything.  Hersh's sources sound almost comically naïve: "Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House's."  The administration has continuously demonstrated its "different understanding" of its need to submit to oversight since it took office.  Your concerns are only beginning to dawn now?

Next, consider the news that the House Oversight Committee issued subpoenas for the President and Vice President's interview records from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.  It was issued because we still don't know all the relevant details over the compromising of a CIA operative.  Since such an action has real (as opposed to fictional) national security implications it is important to know exactly what happened.  Of course, finding out exactly what happened would put the administration somewhere on the political spectrum between Approval Rating Below The Mendoza Line and Would You Rather Resign Or Be Impeached?  Perhaps unsurprisingly the DOJ flat out said it would not comply.

Here is where we get to the crux of the matter.  I hate to put it in such stark and extreme terms, but the question Congress must now answer is, are you with the Constitution or with the President?  The two have become irreconcilably opposed.  I have basically accepted that Congress has by its actions declared itself in favor of all of the President's major policies.  It approves of continuing in Iraq to the indefinite future, of torture, of warrantless wiretaps and "basket" warrants that make a mockery of the 4th Amendment, and so on.  But right now its very relevance as a body is being challenged.  I am all but certain that even a rump GOP would be able to effectively  sound the alarms and shriek at the imperial (get used to that word) actions of a President Obama who makes obvious and logical use of powers currently being established.  That would not mean our system of checks and balances was being upheld, however.  It would just mean that Republicans are still able to shape the Washington narrative even as a nearly crippled minority.

Upholding the system requires action now, and it needs to be more than issuing paper to a contemptuous executive.  If Congress really wants to defend its role and re-establish its relevance then the only options left are direct confrontation: Slap handcuffs on Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten and let them sit in the House jail.  Have the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a contempt citation for Karl Rove, give him a deadline and tell him he will join his erstwhile companions if he does not show up.  And yes, begin suggesting that the Attorney General may end up there as well if he continues to defy them.  Let the right turn any of them into a cause célèbre if they want; let GOP leaders in Congress rush to their defense if so moved.  Let the White House be the ones appealing to judges for relief for a change.  There is too much at stake for Congress to continue its weak protestations.  If nothing changes it will be responsible for a terrible precedent:  That a President can, with enough arrogance, bullying and defiance, ignore Congress with impunity.

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by danps (dan at pruningshears (dot) us) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 06:46:57 AM EST
Those are good questions, but at the risk of invoking the [Helen's Crystal Ball of Doom Technology] logo, I think we can paraphrase Rummy by saying that you run the country with the government you have, not the government you wish you had.

The Democrats are shot through with a wide vein of Repugnican-lite spineless Bush enablers. Even those who claim to be putting up a fight are eager to blink if the going gets tough. I honestly feel they have a view that the american people are either too ignorant to care about the constitution or, if not ignorant, don't care anyway. If it don't fill their wallet, then it ain't something that moves people in downtown Peoria.

I sometimes read the drippy wet weak excuses of Democrat leaders in DC as to why they caved on this, co-operated on that and you start to realise why Republicans, and indeed americans in general view Democrats as they do. We know that the republicans are unprincipled, but their refusal to compromise actually makes them look principled and strong. They look like they believe in something. By contrast, by giving up on everything be it War, Torture or even the constitution itself, the democrats are the ones who appear unprincipled, they look like they don't believe in anything, but are amoral schemers and chancers. And not very good ones either cos they keep losing every vote.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 11:38:21 AM EST
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 12:29:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw a discussion on the tele the other day that essentially aligned Obama with some of the anti-abortionist groups.  The title was something like "Will the Catholic Church save the Democratic Party?"

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 02:49:53 PM EST
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Helen, I agree with every one of your points.  What I'm getting that is: Congress is now not just rolling over on policy but allowing the executive to chip away at its prerogatives.  If it won't stand up to him on THAT then its very relevance is open to question.  I'd have thought members would fight for it tooth and nail, but maybe I'm wrong.  It's hard to believe though.
by danps (dan at pruningshears (dot) us) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 02:50:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, but hasn't Congress'relevance been in question for some time.  Only the Congress has lower approval ratings than Bush.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 02:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Congress's relevance has been in question, but I wouldn't point to the fact that it has lower approvals than Bush.  In fact, I believe the approvals change a fair bit once you start asking about each party is Congress, but even that is silly.  (The Democrats aren't Republicans, at least in name, so they'll have higher approvals in Congress.)  I believe Congress typically has lower approvals than the president, just as the Supreme Court typically has higher approvals than the president.  It's more of a difference in how the public has historically perceived the three branches.

Also, the president can control his own message.  It's clean.  Thumbs up or thumbs down.  Congress, obviously by its nature, can't, so it's muddy, and "muddy" is usually "bad" for approvals.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 03:07:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An 18% approval level for an institution of elected officials is low by anyone's standards.  The congress we have today, regardless of party affiliations, is a useless hulk, period. If just plainly ineffective, and I certainly don't have a quick solution.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 09:37:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The results of such an audacious concept have been especially clear this week.  First up is Seymour Hersh's blockbuster article in the New Yorker describing how the administration has bypassed Congress in its efforts to begin a war with Iran.

If that's his take, then Sy is getting too old for this, because Junior did no such thing.  He didn't have to, because Congress gave him what he wanted in the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment.  It's all there.  We were told it was all there from the beginning.  The Iranian Revolutionary Guard was declared a terrorist organization, so the authorization for war is already given.  Conyers and Kucinich can threaten impeachment if Junior launches until they're blue in the face, but it ain't happenin'.

Could someone give him Biden's cell number, please?

It's utterly amazing to me, too, that people are shocked -- shocked! -- when CIA operatives resign and talk, or leak to people like Hersh.  Has nobody been paying attention for the last six years?  Am I the only one in this country who wasn't too fucking stupid to notice when the spooks were leaking stories to us suggesting that the Bushies were lying?

The spooks have been leaking stories to the public ever since Junior decided we were going to launch The Awesomest War EvahTM back in 2002.  The press covered it in the most half-assed way possible, and then allowed White House hacks to muddy it, and bury it, in talking points.  Then they blamed the spooks when all the claims turned out to be bullshit.

What the fuck did we think was going to happen?  They told us the weapons weren't. fucking. there!  And, still, the press and the public just forgot about that, and the spooks got hosed when we didn't find anything.

Next, consider the news that the House Oversight Committee issued subpoenas for the President and Vice President's interview records from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.  It was issued because we still don't know all the relevant details over the compromising of a CIA operative.

Yes, we do.  Armitage leaked Plame's identity to Novak.  Rove, Libby, Cheney and others leaked it elsewhere, or at the very least pushed the leak.  All should've been charged with treason.

Here is where we get to the crux of the matter.  I hate to put it in such stark and extreme terms, but the question Congress must now answer is, are you with the Constitution or with the President?

It's not an either-or question.  You can be against the president, too weak and stupid to do anything about it, while not paying any attention to the Constitution.

Congress isn't interested in reestablishing its role right now.  They're letting Junior do whatever he wants, knowing that being perceived as on the opposite side of him makes winning elections like shooting fish in a barrel.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Jul 5th, 2008 at 02:39:50 PM EST
step down in January?  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 12:57:33 AM EST
Why shouldn't he? What would he (or, more relevant: His backers) gain from a coup d'etat? Sure, the American people might be sufficiently lazy, brainwashed and/or helpless to not be able to do something about it. But they also might not. And - say - a general strike would hurt the Bushies and their cronies much worse than four years of Obama ever could.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jul 14th, 2008 at 10:10:49 AM EST
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The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Tue Jul 15th, 2008 at 03:29:39 AM EST
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