This Commentary was written on January 19, 2009, the day before President Obama (my, now, those two words have a nice sound, don’t they?) delivers his Inaugural Address. It is likely that you will be reading it after the event. By that time we will both know whether I got my wish(es) in whole, in part, or not at all. But here they are, and here’s hoping.
A couple of weeks ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a questionnaire to its contributors (of which, I must admit, I am one). It asked for one’s top pick for the must-deal-with problems. The list consisted of the usual suspects, beginning with what can be called “The Five ‘E’s’ ” (with liberties taken): Economic stimulus, Education, Environment, Ealth Care, and Eraq (well some people do pronounce it that way), as well as Tax Reform (?!) and somewhere on the list “national defense/security.” My answer, had I answered, would have been “None of the above.” One will likely hear some version or another of the list above in Pres. Obama’s address. But I am really hoping, oh boy am I hoping, that some significant percentage of the time in what will, we are told, be a relatively short speech (20 minutes or so, so we have been told) will be devoted to the Big “C:” the Constitution, and the restoration of Constitutional Democracy (C.D.) in the United States.
Of all the depredations on our nation committed by the Georgites, history will show that Number One was the unremitting, unrelenting, all-out assault on C.D. Obama may well fix the economy, reform the health care system, repair the education system as well as the nation’s infrastructure, et al. But if he does not repair the damage to our nation’s founding document, and while he is doing it make it clear to the people why he is doing it and how the Constitution makes us unique among nations, in the long run everything else will count for naught. It happens that just now the House Judiciary Committee, under the courageous chairmanship of Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) (who also happens to be the Dean of the House Black Caucus) has published “Reining In The Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the Presidency of George W. Bush.”
The Conyers Report goes into great, very well documented detail, on the myriad violations of the Constitutional committed by Bush and Cheney and their lackeys, lead by Yoo, Addington, and Libby, supplying ample particulars. I would like to review some part of the Constitution itself, looking at some of the particulars of its provisions and requirements, with some notes on how they were liberally violated by the Georgites. Of course, this being done should come as no surprise. George Bush himself was quoted (not widely by that awful “liberal” media, but quoted nevertheless) as referring to the Constitution as that “scrap of paper.”
Let’s start with Article I on the Legislative Branch. Georgites might be surprised to learn that Section I actually says “All legislative powers granted herein shall be vested in the Congress of the United States.” Hmmm. That would seem to mean that the President cannot make legislation up as he goes along or that he can violate laws passed by Congress whenever he wants to, for whatever reason, doesn’t it? Then there is Section 7, the Presidential veto clause, which gives the President the power to send any bill passed back to the Congress if he/she thinks that there is anything wrong with it. And no, there is no provision for the President to say in a ‘signing statement” of a law duly passed by the Congress that “no, I don’t like this one and I’m just not going to obey it.”
Or how about Section 8 which, among other things gives to Congress the power to declare war. Congress never declared war on Iraq, or on Afghanistan for that matter, not even within the confines of the War Powers Act in which it did give some of its war-making power away to the President on a limited, emergency basis. But the Georgites kept telling us “we’re at war” and still do, so much that the Democrats, including President Obama, have fallen right into that trap.
National emergency? The biggest one the U.S. ever faced was the attack on Pearl Harbor. Did Roosevelt on his own authority, as Commander-in-Chief no less, order the U.S. armed forces into action? No. He asked Congress to declare war. And then there is that inconvenient Section 9, on habeas corpus and its suspension. Congress alone has the authority to do that, and only in cases of rebellion or invasion. Yes, Lincoln did do it on his own, and even though he faced rebellion, even the greatest of U.S. Presidents did violate the Constitution. But even though O’RHannibaugh will tell you so every day, two wrongs do not make a right.
Then there is Article II, with the danged Commander-in-Chief clause. Now maybe, if that were the only Article in the Constitution, it might be possible to interpret it the way the Georgites do: whatever the President wants to do (as long as he is a Republican, and the right kind of Republican, of course) is OK. But Article II ain’t the only one in the Constitution. There’s Article I and then there is Article III, concerning the Judiciary. Sorry, Republicans, but in the context of the rest of the Constitution and the limits it places on the powers of the President just by giving bunches of powers to the other branches, “Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy” means just that, referring to, yes indeed, “the Army and the Navy,” not the whole legislative and judicial functions of the Federal government.
There are bunches of others (and I didn’t get to the Bill of Rights, which the Georgites seem to just pretend doesn’t exist), but I will only mention one more, one of my favorites, Article VI. It provides that treaties, duly signed by the President and ratified by the Congress become part of “the supreme law of the land.” Sorry, Gonzo, you cannot pass off the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and then decide the president doesn’t need to abide by them. Torture is clearly prohibited by the Conventions. You want to torture? OK, then. To do so without violating the Constitution, all you have to is either abrogate them (which would mean that they would not cover any American in any country that also a signatory) or renegotiate them to include torture of some category of person you make up like, oh, “Illegal enemy combatants.” Otherwise such torture not only violates the said Geneva Conventions, but also it violates the Constitution itself.
I could go on (and on). I just hope that President Obama does go on a bit about how his predecessor attempted to destroy what has held us together for over two centuries and has, until the accession of the Georgites, for most of that time (at least since the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery) made us the beacon of liberty, as well as Constitutional government, to the world. We must, as the first order of business of the Obama Administration, return to the Rule of Law. Otherwise, all else, in the long run of the future history of our great nation, will be mere window dressing.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and a www.TPJmagazine.us Contributing Author; a regular Columnist for BuzzFlash; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC; and a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad.