One of the practices of President Bush I found most offensive was his use of Signing Statements. Its not that he was the first president to use them, rather it was the way he used them. He routinely used them to “interpret” the laws passed by congress in ways that would let him circumvent the intentions of the law. At the time I found this extremely offensive, and anyone who placed any value in The Constitution should have felt the same. The main argument I used against Conservatives on this issue was: Well would you defend this practice if used by a Democrat?
In a statement issued Friday night, President Obama took issue with some provisions in the budget bill – and in one case simply says he will not abide by it.
Last week the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans were involved in intense negotiations over not only the size of the budget for the remainder of the FY2011 budget, and spending cuts within that budget, but also several GOP “riders,” or policy provisions attached to the bill.
One rider – Section 2262 — de-funds certain White House adviser positions – or “czars.” The president in his signing statement declares that he will not abide by it.
So Bush Republicans: what do you think of Signing Statements now?
Between 2001 and 2009 [...] a very specific philosophy reigned in Washington: You cut taxes, especially for millionaires and billionaires; you cut regulations for special interests; you cut back on investments in education and clean energy, in research and technology. The idea was if we put blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play by their own rules, if we left everybody to fend for themselves, America would grow and America would prosper.
That was the philosophy that was put forward. For eight years, we tried that. And that experiment failed miserably.
Important note: Obama is full of shit.
Look anyone who is under the delusion that George W. Bush was some kind of market fundamentalist needs to have their head examined. What the vast majority of our pundit class, current ruling party and members of the political left don’t seem to understand is that the current backlash against big government has been a long time brewing. The Prophet (the good Jewish nerdy one, not the insane Catholic obstetrician one) is fond of pointing out the Tea Party is, in large part, blow-back against the excesses of the Bush Administration. Once our ruling class gets that through their thick skulls maybe we will get some real progress on this issue.
Few authors have grappled with Big Questions™ via deliciously salacious material better than Sophocles. Want to get people talking about conflicts between secular & religious obligations, fate, and civic virtue? Tease them with incest, patricide, live burial, and self-mutilation.
The West Was Written blogger has an interesting analysis of the civic virtue angle as presented in Antigone:
Once the confetti is swept up, the real test of governing begins. This is when King Creon’s admonishment [to be skeptical of our leaders' self-advertisements] becomes important. WE MUST WATCH OUR RULERS – and this is daunting because there are so very many of them these days. Where to begin? Begin with the understanding that this duty is not exciting. That it requires sacrifice and boring conversations on multiple occasions with people your delicate feelings would rather avoid…
Why all of that watching? Politicians never EVER say what they really mean. It takes multiple times listening to their speeches and interviews (or better yet being in the room with one by going to boring government meetings) to really get a sense of what they’re actually saying.
The conflict between what’s important and what’s exciting is clearest in politics. It’s why the Cordoba House mosque attracts more attention than the Financial Reform Bill, and why Sarah Palin has more than 2,000,000 followers on Facebook, while Paul Ryan has fewer than 6,000. Government’s most important functions are rarely sexy, which is why it’s necessary to keep a close, weary eye on it and the people who run it.
But we should apply our skepticism means as well as the proper goals and purpose of government. Keeping politicians and bureaucrats honest is essential to liberty, but only if we are equally vigilant about keeping them on task. Read the rest of this entry »
The president has a problem. For, despite a great election victory, Mr. Obama, it becomes ever clearer, knows little about Americans. He knows the crowds—he is at home with those. He is a stranger to the country’s heart and character.
He seems unable to grasp what runs counter to its nature. That Americans don’t take well, for instance, to bullying, especially of the moralizing kind, implicit in those speeches on health care for everybody. Neither do they wish to be taken where they don’t know they want to go and being told it’s good for them.
Who would have believed that this politician celebrated, above all, for his eloquence and capacity to connect with voters would end up as president proving so profoundly tone deaf? A great many people is the answer—the same who listened to those speeches of his during the campaign, searching for their meaning.
I’ve complained numerous times (e.g.) that, for all the hubub about what a great speaker Obama is, the only thing he has ever persuaded anyone of is that he’s a great speaker. I can’ t say I’m surprised in the least that he cannot sell health care.
Let me be a little provacative: When Obama speaks, Americans say, “What a clever man is Obama.” When George Bush spoke, Americans said, “Let us march on Bagdhad.”
This is, of course, a gross oversimplication. But it’s also true. George Bush, for all his supposed inability to speak and all his supposed stupidity, was able to approach the American people with an originally unpopular idea and convince them that he was right. His argument wasn’t “Listen to me because I’m George Bush;” instead, it was “listen to me because overthrowing Saddam is the right thing to do.” The failure of George Bush’s second term rests largely on his decision, conscious or not, to stop trying to persuade his fellow Americans of the correctness of his ideas.
Obama’s argument, mostly, is that we should listen to him because he’s Obama. But no one in America has that sort of inate political power. We’re a spirited people who don’t take kindly to being told what to do. Obama’s inability to persuade, despite the supposed cleverness of his speeches, will continue to be the signal weakness of his presidency. And we will not again have a successful president until someone appears on the political stage with the ability and desire to persuade us that he’s correct.
The most distressing aspect of the torture issue — worse, to my mind, than either the harm done to detainees or the intelligence that may have been compromised — has been our inability to debate the subject seriously and rationally. This is not a back-door way of criticizing those who disagree with me: 99% of the arguments put forward by both sides rely on the kind of circular logic that admits no honest disagreement. In short, the debated has been poisoned.
That we’ve been unable to discuss a subject this important — though for entirely different reasons, depending on whom you ask — for more than five years speaks very, very poorly for us; after 200 years of practice with republicanism, one would think our citizens could have an intelligent public debate about a controversial subject.
Jim Manzi’s post on the Corner is a genuine exception and something of an antidote: it frames the debate rationally, weighs arguments for and against, and then makes a reasoned judgment. It’s by no means a definitive statement, but it’s the kind of argument we need.
My thoughts are below the fold, but they’re less important than what Manzi wrote. Go read the whole thing.
Buried in this NYT piece is the predictable outcome of Bush’s love affair with the signing statement:
In his directive, Mr. Obama said any signing statement issued before his presidency should be viewed with doubt, placing an asterisk beside all of those issued by Mr. Bush and other former presidents.
“To ensure that all signing statements previously issued are followed only when consistent with these principles,” he wrote, “executive branch departments and agencies are directed to seek the advice of the attorney general before relying on signing statements issued prior to the date of this memorandum as the basis for disregarding, or otherwise refusing to comply with, any provision of a statute.”
Hope everyone is pleased with themselves. Now that Obama’s president, he (quite understandably) feels free to ignore his predecessor’s objections at will. This should be especially disturbing to anyone who maintained that Bush used signing statements to protect his rightful powers, since the laws those statements modified are still on the books and Bush isn’t president any more.
John McCain — who’s no genius when it comes to constitutional matters — was right on this one: signing statements are foolish quick-fixes that keep bad laws on the books and allow presidents and their successors to act unconstitutionally.
Elsewhere in the article, Obama promises to keep using signing statements, though with greater reserve than Bush:
But Mr. Obama also signaled that he intended to use signing statements himself if Congress sent him legislation with provisions he decided were unconstitutional. He promised to take a modest approach when using the statements, legal documents issued by a president the day he signs bills into law that instruct executive officials how to put the statutes into effect. But Mr. Obama said there was a role for the practice if used appropriately.
“In exercising my responsibility to determine whether a provision of an enrolled bill is unconstitutional, I will act with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well-founded,” Mr. Obama wrote in a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies in the executive branch.
That’s a relief. Because Obama never makes empty promises that appear to elevate his own virtues at the expense of others.
Today’s progressives apologize to the world for America’s treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.
The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war — although not the war we have waged — could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter. Though scattered terrorists allied with militarily insignificant states are not, as some conservatives assert, closely analogous to Nazi Germany, the accessibility of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons makes the destructive capacity of these antagonists unfortunately similar — a fact, especially in regard to Iran, that is persistently whistled away by the Left.
An existential threat of such magnitude cannot be averted by imagining that it is the work of one man and will disappear with his death; by mousefully pleasing the rest of the world; by hopefully excluding the tools of war; or by diplomacy without the potential of force, which is like a policeman without a gun, something that doesn’t work anymore even in Britain. The Right should have labored to exhaustion to forge a coalition, and the Left should have been willing to proceed without one. The Right should have been more respectful of constitutional protections, and the Left should have joined in making temporary and clearly defined exceptions. In short, the Right should have had the wit to fight, and the Left should have had the will to fight.
Now that the government is a shareholder in banks, Thomas Friedman lays out some possible unintended consequences:
Let’s imagine this scene: You are the president of one of these banks in which the government has taken a position. One day two young Stanford grads walk in your door. One is named Larry, and the other is named Sergey. They each are wearing jeans and a T-shirt. They tell you that they have this thing called a “search engine,” and they are naming it — get this — “Google.” They tell you to type in any word in this box on a computer screen and — get this — hit a button labeled “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Up comes a bunch of Web sites related to that word. Their start-up, which they are operating out of their dorm room, has exhausted its venture capital. They need a loan.
What are you going to say to Larry and Sergey as the president of the bank? “Boys, this is very interesting. But I have the U.S. Treasury as my biggest shareholder today, and if you think I’m going to put money into something called ‘Google,’ with a key called ‘I’m Feeling Lucky,’ you’re fresh outta luck. Can you imagine me explaining thatto a Congressional committee if you guys go bust?”
And then what happens if the next day the congressman from Palo Alto, who happens to be on the House banking committee, calls you, the bank president, and says: “I understand you turned down my boys, Larry and Sergey. Maybe you haven’t been told, but I am one of your shareholders — and right now, I’m not feeling very lucky. You get my drift?”
Maybe nothing like this will ever happen. Maybe it’s just my imagination. But maybe not …
Fact 1: Oliver Stone keeps making movies that cover topics I’m interested in. See 1, 2, 3, 4.
Fact 2: Oliver Stone keeps making movies that bore me to death. See 1, 2, 3, 4. See again 1.
Fact 3: The previews for W. make it look interesting.
Fact 4: The previews for Alexander made it look interesting.
Fact 5: There is a fantastic movie to be made about George W. Bush. And it may include a [tiny] part of the left’s weird insistence that the last 8 years are best understood as a mediocre son trying to outdo his heroic father.
Fact 6: That movie will not be made by Oliver Stone.
Existential Whine 1: Why must the Hollywood director whose interests most closely correspond to mine be an unrepentant Communist?
There is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine. In fact, there have been four distinct meanings, each one succeeding another over the eight years of this administration — and the one Charlie Gibson cited is not the one in common usage today. It is utterly different.
He asked Palin, “Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?”
She responded, quite sensibly to a question that is ambiguous, “In what respect, Charlie?”
Sensing his “gotcha” moment, Gibson refused to tell her. After making her fish for the answer, Gibson grudgingly explained to the moose-hunting rube that the Bush doctrine “is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense.”
I know something about the subject because, as the Wikipedia entry on the Bush doctrine notes, I was the first to use the term. In the cover essay of the June 4, 2001, issue of the Weekly Standardentitled, “The Bush Doctrine: ABM, Kyoto, and the New American Unilateralism,” I suggested that the Bush administration policies of unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM treaty and rejecting the Kyoto protocol, together with others, amounted to a radical change in foreign policy that should be called the Bush doctrine.
Then came 9/11, and that notion was immediately superseded by the advent of the war on terror. In his address to the joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11, President Bush declared: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” This “with us or against us” policy regarding terror — first deployed against Pakistan when Secretary of State Colin Powell gave President Musharraf that seven-point ultimatum to end support for the Taliban and support our attack on Afghanistan — became the essence of the Bush doctrine.
Until Iraq. A year later, when the Iraq war was looming, Bush offered his major justification by enunciating a doctrine of preemptive war. This is the one Charlie Gibson thinks is theBush doctrine.
It’s not. It’s the third in a series and was superseded by the fourth and current definition of the Bush doctrine, the most sweeping formulation of the Bush approach to foreign policy and the one that most clearly and distinctively defines the Bush years: the idea that the fundamental mission of American foreign policy is to spread democracy throughout the world. It was most dramatically enunciated in Bush’s second inaugural address: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”
For what little it’s worth, the first, second, and third Bush doctrines still seem reasonable to me. It’s the fourth that’s problematic, since a majority of the people can be wrong a majority of the time.
A New York-based publication sees McCain’s words for Tom Ridge and makes inferences about who will be McCain’s veep. I see them and am curious, after his stint at DHS, is there anyone who’s wanting Ridge back in charge of an executive agency? Granted, it would have taken an administrative wizard to make DHS functional during those first few years. But Ridge made the least of his opportunity.
One of the things I’ve always found most attractive about McCain is that he has all of President Bush’s resolve in the war on terror without the weird excesses. Jacob Sullum has evidence that I may have been wrong in this:
…I noted that John McCain seemed to have a less expansive view of presidential authority than George W. Bush. Now the distance between them seems to be shrinking. In a recent letter to National Review Online, McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin reported that the Arizona senator believes President Bush acted within his constitutional authority when he violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by approving warrantless monitoring of international communications involving people in the United States. According to Holtz-Eakin, who was responding to an NROpost by Andrew McCarthy that questioned whether McCain was sufficiently supportive of Bush’s position on this issue, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate believes “neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.”
Holtz-Eakin added that as president, “John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from [terrorist] threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.” The reference to Article II clearly implies that McCain would feel free to violate any statute he believed impeded his ability to conduct anti-terrorist surveillance.
There is no ambiguity as to whether FISA required warrants for the sort of surveillance Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct, and the argument that Congress unintentionally amended FISA when it authorized the use of military force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban does not pass the laugh test. The only real issue is whether the president has the constitutional authority to disregard statutes such as FISA when they get in the way of actions he considers necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. In December, McCain said the president does not have that authority; now he says “there’s ambiguity about it.”
Dammit, John. When it comes down to it, the actual wiretapping probably isn’t the hugest deal in the world, though I’ll add that that hardly makes it right. What kills me about the whole business, though, is that the president — upon realizing that the FISA bill was antiquated and unduly impeded necessary surveillances of terrorists — decided to simply ignore it. It never even crossed their minds to go to Congress and say, “Hey, this FISA thing is a disaster. We need to change it.” Unfortunately, this sort of “It’s my constitution, I’ll do what I want!” attitude is perfectly justified in America today, so long as you can plausibly tie it to fighting terrorism.
If you’ve ever read David Frum’s How We Got Here, two things that strike you are both his sympathy for people in situations that they can’t understand and his omnivorous learning. He has an uncanny knack for tying small issues together with large ones and thus illustrating a common concept.
Something has long been wrong with the Bush administration; this we all know. The question has been, what specifically is wrong? Frum’s answer: personnel is policy, and the way Bush manages people weeds out good people. (Frum himself was on staff, but lasted less than two years.) How did Scott McClellan go from a political hack in Texas to the White House press office to the hottest thing on amazon.com? From Frum’s National Post column:
As the current press secretary Dana Perino daily reminds us, you don’t have to be a genius to succeed as press secretary. But you do need (1) composure under fire, (2) verbal fluency, (3) an understanding of the imperatives of the news business and (4) access to the interior workings of the administration. McClellan never possessed qualities (1) and (2), and his colleagues refused to grant him (4).
In these deficiencies, McClellan was not alone. George W. Bush brought most of his White House team with him from Texas. Except for Karl Rove, these Texans were a strikingly inadequate bunch. Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzalez, Karen Hughes, Al Hawkins, Andy Card (the last not a Texan, but a lifelong Bush family retainer) — they were more like characters from The Office than the sort of people one would expect to find at the supreme height of government in the world’s most powerful nation. McClellan, too, started in Bush’s governor’s office, and if he never belonged to the innermost circle of power, he nonetheless gained closer proximity than would be available to almost anyone who did not first serve in Texas.
That early team was recruited with one paramount consideration in mind: loyalty. Theoretically, it should be possible to combine loyalty with talent. But that did not happen often with the Bush team.
Bush demanded a very personal kind of loyalty, a loyalty not to a cause or an idea, but to him and his own career. Perhaps unconsciously, he tested that loyalty with constant petty teasing, sometimes verging on the demeaning. (Robert Draper, whose book Dead Certain offers a vivid picture of the pre-presidential Bush, tells the story of a 1999 campaign-strategy meeting at which Bush shut Karl Rove up by ordering him to “hang up my jacket.” The room fell silent in shock — but Rove did it.)
These little abuses would often be followed by unexpected acts of thoughtfulness and generosity. Yet the combination of the demand for personal loyalty, the bullying and the ensuing compensatory love-bombing was to weed out strong personalities and to build an inner circle defined by a willingness to accept absolute subordination to the fluctuating needs of a tense, irascible and unpredictable chief.
Had Bush been a more active manager, these subordinated personalities might have done him less harm. But after choosing people he could dominate, he then delegated them enormous power. He created a closed loop in which the people entrusted with the most responsibility were precisely those who most dreaded responsibility — Condoleezza Rice being the most important and most damaging example.
In one column, Frum has explained how so many momentous decisions fell into the hands of people who, like Bartleby the Scrivener, would prefer not to. In short, Frum has explained why What Happened happened. Frum has already written one book where he explained what he thought was good and bad about this presidency; I hope he writes another, now that we know more.