Democratic Imperative: Bush’s “Unitary Executive” Notion Must be Obliterated


The Washington Note works hard to provide constructive, serious critiques of Bush administration foreign policy and attempts to avoid reckless typecasting or tractionless hyperventilation regarding what this administration is up to.
We try instead to characterize honestly the power grab that the Executive Branch has been engaged in since 9/11, but we also recognize that the administration is not monolithically united behind the adminstration’s most outrageous positions — and that the loyal minority has not done its part. On both the Democratic side and among Republican moderates, those who believe in checks-and-balances have done little to compellingly challenge this White House.
I want change in policy — not shrillness for its own sake — but this excellent summary of the vital debate about Executive Branch power by Sidney Blumenthal has hardened my resolve to do whatever I can to delegitimate and defang Cheney’s operation.
I know Bush is the big boss, but Bush’s tactic has been to allow two — and perhaps three — contending groups inside his White House to wage war with each other while he tilts in the final analysis towards the group that seems to win out in these private gladiator contests. Most often, the winning tag-team has been Cheney-Rumsfeld over all others.
Cheney’s team have been the architects of both a kind of Presidency that is exactly what the Roman “dictatorships” were defined as — a temporary provision of unchecked executive power to a ruler — as well as the mercurial rise in power of the Office of the Vice President. And Cheney’s team is the scary sort of lot that is hell-bent on establishing a kind of permanence to their power that threatens in very, very real terms the genuineness of our democracy.
Roman dictators still had constraints on what they could do. For instance, absolute authority was granted for distinct periods of time. Certain informal norms of continued consultations with the Roman Senate continued during the period of dictatorship.
The word “dictator” in modern language implies far vaster power and many negative connotations than the Roman application of the concept carried with it.
Nonetheless, Bush has become the epitome of a Roman dictator in the 21st century in his assertion of “unitary executive” authority which this White House has argued has “inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances.” The problem is that unlike Rome, where the Senate granted the dictator great powers, Congress has not — in fact — given Bush the authority to operate beyond his Constitutional authority. Bush has, instead, asserted that authority and taunted Congress to stop him.
This power grab should dominate our media and our civic discourse. Our President — via a deranged, anti-democratic team of power-obsessed thugs in Vice President Cheney’s office — is engaged in a clear assault on the core architectural joists of American democracy.
Sidney Blumenthal writes in his excellent piece:

Bush operates on the radical notion of the “unitary executive,” that the president has inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances. By his extraordinary order, he elevated Cheney to his level, an acknowledgment that the vice president was already the de facto executive in national security. Never before has any president diminished and divided his power in this manner. Now the unitary executive inherently includes the unitary vice president.
The unprecedented executive order bears the earmarks of Cheney’s former counsel and current chief of staff, David Addington. Addington has been the closest assistant to Cheney through three decades, since Cheney served in the House of Representatives in the 1980s. Inside the executive branch, far and wide, Addington acts as Cheney’s vicar, bullying and sarcastic, inspiring fear and obedience. Few documents of concern to the vice president, even executive orders, reach the eyes of the president without passing first through Addington’s agile hands.
To advance their scenario for the Iraq war, Cheney & Co. either pressured or dismissed the intelligence community when it presented contrary analysis. Paul Pillar, the former CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, writes in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, “The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made.”
On domestic spying conducted without legal approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Addington and his minions isolated and crushed internal dissent from James Comey, then deputy attorney general, and Jack Goldsmith, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
On torture policy, as reported by the New Yorker this week, Alberto Mora, recently retired as general counsel to the U.S. Navy, opposed the Bush administration’s abrogation of the Geneva Conventions — by holding thousands of detainees in secret camps without due process and using abusive interrogation techniques — based on legal doctrines Mora called “unlawful” and “dangerous.” Addington et al. told him the policies were being ended while continuing to pursue them on a separate track. “To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values,” Mora said.

More later on this theme, but David Addington, Rasputin’s Rasputin, needs to be outed, vilified, and removed from power.
I’m not pleased about the theatre of Scooter Libby’s defense fund charade, but at least he is now occupied in a way that keeps Americans mostly safe from the harm he was unleashing.
The reality though — hard as it is to admit — is that Vice President Cheney shrugged off the Libby indictment in a few weeks and has roared back to a robust role in national security affairs and is now trying to strangle Condoleezza Rice’s foreign policy agenda.
Addington’s rise and those of his acolytes — have given the neoconservative agenda some new faces, lesser known, but in many ways far more insidious.
— Steve Clemons