Friday, August 22, 2008

Flunking Civics 101

William Kristol has had an epiphany.

With Congressional Republicans facing losses like the 1962 New York Mets in November, Kristol and other right-wingers have begun to preach the virtues of "divided government."

The theory is simple: With Congress firmly controlled by one party, better that the White House be controlled by the other. It's a checks and balances thing - each one acts as a break on the other. Just like the Founders intended

Kristol has clearly had a conversion experience. As far as I can recall, neither he nor any other residents at intellectual assisted-living centers like the Weekly Standard, the Heritage Institute or the American Enterprise Institute have preached the doctrine of divided government during the last seven years. One-party rule seemed fine to them, provided it was one-party Republican rule, and none of them seemed to care much about "checks and balances" when Bush was systematically pushing the Constitution into a paper-shredder.

And call me cynical, but I don't think the conversion is genuine. It is simply the best argument they can muster on behalf of John McBush - elect him, otherwise the Democrats really might succeed in passing a national health care plan!

But this campaign tactic masquerading as a civics lesson ignores a key issue we must all face after November. Of all the messes left by Bush/Cheney - and it will take us some time even to count them all - surely the most dangerous is the unprecendented power-grab by the Executive branch. Turning the President into a strong-man has been Cheney's life-long ambition, of course, dating back to Watergate. He was the author of the Iran-Contra minority report in which he said, in effect, Reagan had every right to ignore a vote of Congress. And he has succeeded to a frightening extent, with the help of David Addington, John Yoo and others. In the area of foreign policy/national security issues in particular, the Bush/Cheney administration believes the president can operate without any checks at all.

It may be too late to close the barn door. Once powers have been established through precedent, it is difficult to rescind them. The only hope we have, therefore, of restoring some sense of accountability to the Executive branch is by having a President who can cooperate with Congress on that task. One can hardly imagine John McBush, who promised to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years and sang a song about bombing Iran, cooperating with a Democratic Congress in restraining executive power. Indeed, faced with an oppositional Congress, the irascible, nasty McBush might well exert this new executive power even more forcefully. Contrary to Mr. Kristol's civics lesson, the expansion of Executive power has been orchestrated by the Bush administration precisely so that the president can ignore Congress, not cooperate with it.

Sorry Mr. Kristol, Republicans in Congress and in the White House bear full responsibility for the fix we are now in. Democrats may not be able to solve all these problems created over the last seven years, but Republicans certainly can't be trusted even to try.


Bob Kowalski said...

Great post, Steve. Too bad The Dispatch doesn't feature you anymore.

If things go as predicted, we're going to have nearly one party rule for four years (the Senate rules will keep things uneven) with total obstructionism from the minority party. We will see antics from them that haven't been used since the 19th century.

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