Friday, December 23, 2005

Why Is This Man Laughing? 

Maybe he just heard our distinguished colleague Susie Madrak telling the old joke about how Bill Clinton asked the court for a postponement of the Paula Jones suit until his term ended:
And how everyone (including the New York Times, if I remember correctly) said that was the height of arrogance. How dare the president act like he was above the law?

Funny, huh.
Speaking of the NYT, that last link will take you to an editorial in this morning's edition of same, which catalogues a few of Mr. Cheney's more ambitious circumlegal undertakings:
The president "needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," Mr. Cheney said this week as he tried to stifle the outcry over a domestic spying program that Mr. Bush authorized after the 9/11 attacks.

Before 9/11, Mr. Cheney was trying to undermine the institutional and legal structure of multilateral foreign policy: he championed the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow in order to build an antimissile shield that doesn't work but makes military contractors rich. Early in his tenure, Mr. Cheney, who quit as chief executive of Halliburton to run with Mr. Bush in 2000, gathered his energy industry cronies at secret meetings in Washington to rewrite energy policy to their specifications. Mr. Cheney offered the usual excuses about the need to get candid advice on important matters, and the courts, sadly, bought it. But the task force was not an exercise in diverse views. Mr. Cheney gathered people who agreed with him, and allowed them to write national policy for an industry in which he had recently amassed a fortune.

The effort to expand presidential power accelerated after 9/11, taking advantage of a national consensus that the president should have additional powers to use judiciously against terrorists.

Mr. Cheney started agitating for an attack on Iraq immediately, pushing the intelligence community to come up with evidence about a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda that never existed. His team was central to writing the legal briefs justifying the abuse and torture of prisoners, the idea that the president can designate people to be "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely, and a secret program allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants. And when Senator John McCain introduced a measure to reinstate the rule of law at American military prisons, Mr. Cheney not only led the effort to stop the amendment, but also tried to revise it to actually legalize torture at C.I.A. prisons.
The Times considers it "encouraging" that Messrs. Bush and Cheney have recently encountered a roadblock or two on the path to unchecked imperial power, although "They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues" -- and we applaud that opinion, for the Times is an institution that desperately needs encouragement, in the most literal sense of the word. Still, reader Greg Keaton made the same point more concisely, and with greater force, in a couple of sentences he wrote to the editor of the S.F. Chronicle:
Cheney says, "Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs."

Gee, do you think there might have been a good reason why Watergate and Vietnam eroded the authority of the president?
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