I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Bush meaning of "bipartisanship"

(updated below)

The President is going to include all sorts of flowery odes to the beauty of bipartisanship in his upcoming speech this afternoon -- much to the inevitable delight of the wise Washington pundit class, which will excitedly take him at his word and demand that Democrats "work with" the President rather than oppose and investigate him.

But what the Bush administration really means by "bipartisanship" -- as they are already making quite clear -- is that the Democrats in Congress do nothing to stand in their way and, most especially, that Democrats recognize that there will be no looking into what the Leader has done or subjecting his Decisions to any scrutiny. From Time's Mike Allen, today:

Advisers expect a battle royale over the balance of powers if Democrats use their new subpoena power to try to conduct what the White House is already calling "witch hunts." Bush and Vice President Cheney have made the expansion of executive power one of their hallmarks, and advisers say they do not plan to give up any of the ground they have won without a fight all the way to the Supreme Court. "We're going to have a fierce constitutional showdown over the boundaries of power between the executive and legislative branches," one adviser said. "The executive usually wins those battles, so we think we'll consolidate our gains."

To this administration, "witch hunts" means: refusing to allow them to rule in total secrecy and, instead, trying to find out what has really been going on in our Government.

This is a confrontation which the country desperately needs. The anonymous boasting to Time that "the executive usually wins those battles" and that they "think [they'll] consolidate [their] gains" is pure bravado that they don't believe. They just lost exactly that type of battle when the Supreme Court in Hamdan all but ruled that they were war criminals who had no right to act -- even with regard to how they detain and interrogate suspected terrorists -- in contravention of the Congress.

It is vital to remember that we already have a constitutional crisis in our government. The choice is not whether to create one (since it already exists), but whether to confront and battle it, or acquiesce to it (as the Republican Congress has done). While it is nice that Democrats have taken over the Congress, it is vital to remember that we have a President who has repeatedly made clear that Congress is irrelevant in our system of government and cannot limit the President in any way. Re-establishing the rule of law -- and the principle that the President is not above it -- is still the most compelling priority for our country.

These anonymous shots across the bow are about trying to intimidate Congressional Democrats away from real oversight and trying to bully them away from investigating-- by boasting how the White House will inevitably win such fights, both legally and politically. And the White House no doubt expects to recruit the David Broders and Fred Hiatts of the world to sternly lecture the Democrats about their obligations to be cooperative and about how it is so mean and "divisive" to investigate the Leader. Instead, Democrats will be told that they should "work with President Bush" instead (meaning: ignore their base that elected them and just, all Arlen-Specter-like, politely request permission to modify a few things here and there on the President's wish list in order to cast the appearance of compromise).

If there is anything that should be viewed as impotent at this point, it is Republican threats, accompanied by their boasting of inevitable victory. One of the most important things our country needs is a bright light to be shined on what this Government has done, and if the Bush administration really wants to resist those inquiries and claim the right not just to be above the law, but also immune from scrutiny, all the better.

As effectively as anything, that resistance will highlight exactly what they are. And the ensuing fight -- framed as the President's claimed entitlement to continue to operate in complete secrecy, with no limits or checks, just as he did for five years with a rubber-stamping Republican Congress -- is exactly the one that Democrats should aggressively seek out and engage.

* * * * * *

The President at his Press Conference was just asked why it was that he definitively told reporters only a week ago that Rumsfeld would stay for the next two years, only to now have him resign, and his answer was really remarkable. He all but said that he lied when he said Rumsfeld would stay because he did not want to "inject" such a critical question about the war into the election with just a few days to go. As a result, he said, he told them that Rumsfeld would stay to get them to ask other questions.

* * * * *

I'm wondering if there is a greater irony, ever, than the President lecturing the media about how the election was so close, and as a result, the American people expect them to work together "to get stuff done."

* * * * *

That was a rather bizarre press conference. The President seemed very rattled, confused, even disoriented. I believe him when he said that he expected -- even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary -- that they would win the election, because they are simply Right about things. He believes that his being Right and Good means he will win, no matter how contrary the evidence is. That is exactly what has happened with Iraq, too - and it is why we are not leaving, no matter how many new Defense Secretaries and Baker Commissions are brought in to say that things aren't going well. The parallel is exact.

* * * * *

The dishonesty in Bush's answer about why he said last week that Rumsfeld would be staying is too glaring even for Byron York to overlook it. York explains Bush's inconsistent answers to his comardes at the Corner here and here.

UPDATE: It's encouraging (although it should be commonplace) that the Washington Post is calling this what it is, but the phrase "misled reporters" in this passage should have been replaced with "misled the nation":

At his news conference, Bush called the election results a "thumping" but vowed to maintain his policy of refusing to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq "before the job is done." Bush indicated that he had made the decision to replace Rumsfeld before the elections, but he said he had not held a "final conversation" with the defense chief or talked to Gates at the time he told reporters in response to a question last week that Rumsfeld would be staying on.

Asked about that comment, Bush said he made it because "I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign," Bush said. He appeared to acknowledge having misled reporters, saying, "And so the only way to answer that question and to get you onto another question was to give you that answer."

He added later, "Win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee."

We've become so accustomed to being lied to in this manner by our political leaders that the President can just casually admit to it (just like he can casually admit to breaking the law), and it causes only the most minor of controversies, if that.

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