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.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cheney, the anti-Madison

James Madison feared a tyrannical executive branch. He wanted to keep the executive branch weak, certainly weak enough to be checked by Congress.

Madison knew how very easy it was for an executive branch to seize powers not granted to them, though. One recipe for vast expansion of presidential power was during a time of war. Madison wrote

War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions, and the most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.

Madison saw clearly that having a war was like a goody bag for the president. He gets to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces, gets to dispense public money, gets to heap the reflected glow of military success on himself. And no one can usually stop him. War is fantastic for the executive branch. It’s the best thing that can happen to it.

Of course, war sucks for the people fighting and dying, the people being brutalized and driven out of their homes, the people footing the bill, and the people who have to give up rights under an increased executive. But next to the temptations of war, Madison saw that the executive branch would have to be checked.

His formula for preventing or reducing frivolous wars fought merely to aggrandize the executive was for Congress to have the power to declare war, not the president. And, the press’s job, the most important job they had, was to inform the citizenry of the truth of what the executive was claiming. Thus, the media’s true function, as emphasized by Madison, was to help to prevent frivolous wars, which would lead to tyranny.

We have not been immune to frivolous wars in this country, of course. For at least a century, from the Maine to the Gulf of Tonkin to the mythical murdered Kuwaiti incubator babies, executive lies have been used to get us into, or get us deeper into, wars of executive choice.

But suppose someone came to power who thought that the executive was really much weaker than he thought it should be. Suppose, instead of looking at tyranny as a bad thing, this hypothetical person looked at it instead as the goal. What could he do? Taking Madison’s warning as a playbook, he sees that in the absence of a strong press, if he makes unnecessary war, he can achieve tyranny.

Such a person exists in our vice president. Dick Cheney, and Don Rumsfeld as well, have long been on the record as not understanding the reining in of executive power after the excesses of Nixon to be necessary. Instead, they perceive the powers that Nixon seized, including illegal surveillance, to be well within the sphere of their desired tyrannical state. Take, for example, Cheney’s recent Q&A at a press club luncheon:

Q You have talked about reclaiming the powers of the presidency that was lost following Watergate, in fact when President Ford had taken office, and you've talked about the notion of the unitary executive. Should there be any limits, and if so, what?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't believe I've ever talked about the unitary executive. Others may have suggested that I talked about that.

But I clearly do believe, and have spoken directly about the importance of a strong presidency, and that I think there have been times in the past, oftentimes in response to events such as Watergate or the war in Vietnam, where Congress has begun to encroach upon the powers and responsibilities of the President; that it was important to go back and try to restore that balance.

I participated in the Iran-Contra investigation in the Congress. For those of you who are bored and don't have anything else to do, there are minority views we filed with that report that lay out a view with respect to how we think the balance ought to exist between the executive and the legislative in the conduct of national security policy. So I do believe there is a -- it's very important to have a strong executive.
What are the limits? The limits are the Constitution. And, certainly, we need to and do adhere to those limitations. But I think if you look at things like the War Powers Act, for example, adopted in the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict, that that was an infringement on the President's ability to deploy troops. It's never really been tested. I think it's probably unconstitutional. There are a series of events like that that we believed needed to have the balance righted, if you will, and I think we've done that successfully.

Congratulations, Mr. Cheney. You wanted to be able to “deploy troops” whether or not the Congress approved (forget having the Congress declare war, that notion is long gone) and you’ve got it. You wanted to be able to spy on your fellow citizens, as is the executive’s right, and you got it. You just needed to start a pointless war, and suddenly there are no barriers to your powers. Want to remove any constitutional rights? Just declare them suspended under “national security” concerns. We are, as we are CONSTANTLY being reminded, “at war”.

Now does it become clear why the GOP plan for Iraq is to stay there forever? The Iraq war is not a means to any particular end, it is the end itself. The more chaos created there, the longer the executive will have to gobble up tyrannical powers (and also make its members exceedingly rich). That’s why they get so panicked when the Democrats talk about leaving Iraq. Ending our involvement in the war will take away their excuse to do whatever they want. That’s why the GOP keeps trying to equate withdrawal with defeat. It would be a defeat for their plans to practice unhindered corruption.

In reality, Bush has already announced that Iraq will be a problem for future presidents to solve. So, we won’t get out until at least January 2009, regardless of who says what between now and then. We’re in for about three more years of increasing tyranny, and I shudder to think what will happen between now and then.