Monday, May 08, 2006

White House Rules

See, things like this are why he loses voters who wanted him to be a war president.

WASHINGTON - President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

The specific cases cited cluster around the military and intelligence-gathering. Much of the justification for this power-grab is rooted in the fight against Islamist terrorists.

This is what Bush has done, more than any other wrong turn, to drive me out of the camp of people who support him without really liking him. He's failed to grow in the office, failed to transcend the limitations of the hard-driving, dirty-fighting Texas politician (as LBJ did). When I voted for him for the first time, in the 2004 election, I was voting in favor of the vision he articulated, and crossing my fingers that he'd grope his way to the skill set and mental energy to make it work.

We'd reached a point where patience was required in Iraq, and I was willing to give it patience. But Iraq was supposed to be a campaign in the wider war, not the whole thing. Where is the rest of it? Where is the serious, sustained, thoughtful effort to explain ourselves to the world? Where's the push to get Osama? Afghanistan is backsliding into Taliban and al-Qaida control. Where is the awareness that dependence on oil is the root of all this mess.

Historically, Americans are willing -- grudgingly -- to let the federal government and especially the president claim expanded powers during a crisis. It's allowed in the expectation that the powers will be used for the sake of the crisis and will be returned to something like the original state once the crisis is passed. Lincoln in 1861, Roosevelt in 1933. The tragedy is we never get the same rights and government balances back. The old constitution of the Founders died in April 1861. We accept that, too, for the sake of navigating the crisis.

[It can be argued -- and I might, if you buy the beer -- that the South should have been allowed to depart in peace, or that Roosevelt's meddling in the economy had no real effect on the Depression. Historians can make such arguments, or contemporary cranks. The national mood demands otherwise.]

To accomplish this accretion of presidential powers, a Lincoln will bend the Constitution as far as it can bend, then go around it entirely if necessary. Some wrapping paper of legal interpretation is put on the process, out of respect for formality and the rule of law, but it never really convinces anyone except True Believers and it is never meant to be a rationalization for a radical and permanent change in power arrangements.

I understand that this attempt to roll back Islamist terrorism, and the conditions that breed it, is a different kind of war. More difficult an undertaking than anything else we've tried to do as a nation, even end slavery.

But to allow the kind of powers Bush is seeking -- and to believe they are being sought only with an eye to the immediate problem of winning the war -- I'm looking for proof that he is focused on making every effort to win that war. I'm looking for a show of effort from the national government at least equivalent to the temporary sacrifice it asks of us in our personal liberties, for the sake of the battle.

Instead, there's been almost nothing in the way of a call to arms -- just "keep shopping and don't worry." Not even so much as a scrap drive. No mobilization of national resources, no demands that heads of industry and capitalists make sacrifices equivalent to, or for the sake of, the military families.

Enough said.