Monday, September 18, 2006

Being President means never having to say you're sorry...

I've talked about John Yoo before, but the guy is seriously the gift that keeps on giving. Although that puts a bit more positive spin on the guy than I really care to, but my God the guy won't shut up and everything that spews out of his yap pretty much convinces me that 1) this guy is simply f---ing crazy and 2) that he is... I dunno, stupid's not the right word, because he's clearly an intelligent guy in the sense of grey matter horsepower, and obtuse is sort of in the neighborhood but doesn't seem to capture the willful and malevolent disregard of the dangers of unlimited executive power.

In short, in How the Presidency Regained Its Balance is a stunning tour de force of double-talk and scare tactics in the service of the argument of President as dictator. Yoo conflates the conjectured powers of a war-time President with the antediluvian potentate that supposedly existed before the stranglehold of post-Watergate reforms.
[T]he president... has long intended to make reinvigorating the presidency a priority... But the inescapable fact is that war shifts power to the branch most responsible for its waging: the executive...
Yoo basically blows his cover here: oh, we were planning on this anyways; the war just came along and gave us an initial justification. Because note well that the rationale appeals to the President's war efforts, but that the overall motive is a peace-time one. The root of this problem lies in the complacency of a torpid and secure body politic:
The changes of the 1970’s occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon’s use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents.
Let's think about that: no serious national security threats. Not like now, where someone might be able to kill 3,000 people! Back then, all you had was the Soviet Union, which we were assured repeatedly by the conservative ancestors of today's was the Evil Empire with thousands of nuclear-armed ICBMs pointed at us. Not to mention burgeoning Red insurgencies in this hemisphere, Castro still peeking through the keyhole, and so on.

But that dang ol' paranoia just got the best of us. Let's not mention the adage that says, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you," which was certainly true back then. No less than Barry Goldwater, no weak quisling in search of a Prime Minister instead of a (real-man) President, believed that Nixon's actions were beyond the bounds of legality and propriety. So let's be clear: there was real cause to place limits on the office of the President. Harkening back to the halcyon days of LBJ and Nixon is hardly likely to rally a groundswell of support for the powers Yoo wants to invest in the President.
These statutes have produced little but dysfunction...
Yeah, and allowing open-ended "interpretation" of Congressional statutes through the use of signing statements, where interpretation has ventured so far afield as to result in the statute actually being implemented in almost precisely the opposite manner intended by Congress, that has resulted in smooth functioning and coherency.

Later, I'll have a bit more to say on two topics related to this:
  • Proponents of unitary executive always try to date the supposed neutering of the Presidency back to the post-Watergate reforms. In fact, this is bollocks: the unitary executive concept of the President is strictly modern, expressly defined out of the picture in the U.S. Constitution, and is a profoundly un-American and ahistorical concept.
  • The appeals to the post-Watergate reforms really create a coded message that refers back to the cultural divide of the '60s and '70s, with support for the unitary executive equating to support for God, country, and all of the other nationalist symbols of the pro-war anti-left conservative movement.
I think both of these are very important to understand and to clarify in this debate. Allowing these concepts to go unquestioned allows them to filter in as the accepted basis for considering the question: if we're just talking about rolling back a few decades in terms of Presidential power, then it's not so bad, right? And the hippies made a mess of things, so we don't want to be on their side!

In fact, if the concept of the unitary executive becomes established, we've in effect become a-Constitutional, entering territory that was voided by George Washington when he declined to become king. The checks of laws and courts on the desires and programs of the executive branch are not just inconvenient restrictions placed to test the mettle of our President. Instead, they're part and parcel of our system, these limits on absolute power part of the very woof and weave of our nation's fabric. The actions, justifications, and rationalizations of bomb throwers like John Yoo threatens to tear and sunder this fabric, with consequences that will destroy everything that it truly means to be American.

Let me be direct: John Yoo is a horrible detestable person. He is no way qualified to teach law. His book is entitled, War By Other Means. I agree that he's found a way to conduct civil war and insurrection against the U.S. Constitution by means other than war. He has provided a rationalization for a horrible cabal of incompetent, evil men to begin the project of destroying our democracy. For all of the crimes and moral depravity he has caused and aided and abetted, John Yoo should be deeply ashamed of himself.

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