The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Prophets Foretold It: W was inevitable

I'm almost done with the amazingly thoughtful and iconoclastic book Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen. In twelve of the most fascinating chapters I've ever read, Loewen details the differences between the myths that are taught as American "history" and compares them to what actually happened. And he discusses why some topics are emphasized, why others are ignored and made invisible, and why some are simply lied about in US textbooks. The topics include what Columbus was really about, what the Pilgrims were really up to, lies about Reconstruction, Vietnam, the labor movement, the wars against native Americans, the bromides about "progress", misrepresentations of racism and antiracism, democracy vs. federal power, etc. An excellent read.

The book was first published in 1995, and in a chapter on watching out for big government, he writes that Watergate is one of the few "scandals" that even appear in history textbooks. Most other criminal government activity is never mentioned. But here's some of what he writes about Watergate:

In telling of Watergate, textbooks blame Richard Nixon, as they should. But they go no deeper. Faced with this undeniable instance of governmental wrongdoing, they manage to retain their uniformly rosy view of the government. . . . As Richard Rubenstein has pointed out, "the problem will not go away with the departure of Richard Nixon," because it is structural, stemming from the vastly increased power of the federal executive bureaucracy. Indeed, in some ways the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan-Bush adminstrations . . . shows an executive branch more out of control than Nixon's. . . . Since the structural problem in the government has not gone away, it is likely that students will again, in their adult lives, face an out-of-control federal executive pursuing criminal foreign and domestic policies. To the extent that their understanding of the government comes from their American history courses, students will be shocked by these events and unprepared to think about them.


Behold the power of the honest historian. In a single paragraph, Loewen predicts not only the criminal Bush/Cheney regime and the shocking extent of its criminality, but also America's sleepwalking non-response to it. I suspect that professor Loewen is freaking out about now, as so many of our fellows are trying to convince us that Bush's illegal wire-taps are no big deal.

Now consider this information about "signing statements" from today's Liberal Oasis:

Bush believes by simply asserting authority in a “signing statement,” the Supreme Court cannot force him to follow the law and the Constitution when investigating Americans and interrogating prisoners.

Alito, who supports the “unitary executive” and masterminded the “signing statement,” agrees and will happily keep the Supreme Court off Bush’s back.

Nowadays, when Bush signs a bill from Congress, he writes his own little "statement" about what HE thinks the law means (note this is the judicial branch's job). In the most recent case, his statement on signing the bill that included the McCain amendment banning torture of detainees amounted to "I'm the President, and you can't enforce jack".

It’s a concept cooked up by Sam Alito, back when he was in the Reagan Justice Department, to diminish the weight of the congressional record and increase the weight of the president’s whims when the Supreme Court interprets the law.

Bush is a big fan of Alito's signing statements, though as the W. Post noted, the Supreme Court has not given them nearly as much weight as congressional debate when determining a law’s intent.

Sounds innocuous so far? Hold on.

This particular signing statement from Friday didn’t just merely offer a slightly different take on the law than Congress.

It asserted presidential authority to unilaterally interpret the law, since he is head of the “unitary executive branch.”

So, OK, Bushco is now running wild with unchecked executive power. But if Bush (Cheney and Rove, really) is only a symptom of the fact that executive power is unbalanced in this country, then I think it leaves the Democrats only one choice.

In order to fix things, they have got to run on a platform of reducing and balancing executive power. Can the legislative branch, the judiciary, the "free" press, and the other institutions of democracy be revived to the point where they can check the executive in any meaningful way? Even if we get rid of Chimpy, this issue will arise and re-arise each time a Republican is elected. And I'm not too hopeful about unscrupulous Democratic presidents' use of unchecked executive power. It's a bazooka, one we can't afford to leave lying around.

Is there a practical way to achieve this? Could the Democrats use this idea as a rallying point for liberals, libertarians, etc.? The world awaits the answer.


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