Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Benefits of divided government: A real time example.

DemFromCT makes a great observation on the current torture and surveillance debates in Congress in his post: "The benefits of divided government" at The Next Hurrah:
"... we are reminded of how much better we'd be without a rubberstamp Congress. With R's playing the role that D's can't in the minority, the WH negotiates for a bill, with concessions all around. Now, these concessions may not be nearly sufficient (these are nervous R's at election time), and the negotiations may not be in good faith (although in this case, the R's are literally desperate to get something passed). In addition, they highlight severe and real republican fissures. but it does remind us of how government used to function, and can function again... the divisions are real and the highlighted bits give you a taste of life with a D Congress. House and Senate opposition is good for the country. In any case, neither bill is particularly good nor in need of passage before January. The country would be better served by a vetting of the bill by a real bipartisan opposition, using the core of the House and Senate objections as a starting point."
These important issues deserve real and public debate. We are only getting that debate because a handful of Republican military veterans in Congress have placed loyalty to the American people and the Constitution above loyalty to the Republican party or this administration. Should surveillance be permitted to intercept terrorist plots? Yes. Should there be clarity about how we interrogate, detain and prosecute enemy combatants? Yes. Should the executive branch be immune to congressional and judicial oversight, with a free hand to ignore US laws (like FISA) and treaties (like the Geneva Convention) in the prosecution of these activities? No. Not in the United States of America.

The administration's panic to pass legislation now is a direct consequence of administration arrogance, asserting broad executive powers that conservative columnist George Will called "monarchial" and the failure of the Republican majority in Congress to challenge those assertions or provide adequate oversight. So now we are depending on the judgement of a few Republican patriots to arbitrate between protecting Constitutional checks and balances, our bill of rights, our moral standing in the world, and the practical needs of security. And they need to do it in two weeks. If President Bush had properly come to the congress soon after 9/11, when (unlike now) he did indeed have political capital to spend, we could have had an open and thoughtful legislative process on these issues, and likely a better result than we will see from this rush to legislation. Instead the administration chose to exploit the post 9/11 environment with an extraordinary exectutive power grab as documented by the Cato article "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W Bush'". This excellent article details the assault on constitutional limitations of executive power by the Bush administration. It was written by Gene Healy (author of "Arrogance of Power Reborn: The Imperial Presidency and Foreign Policy in the Clinton Years") and Timothy Lynch (author of "Dereliction of Duty: The Constitutional Record of President Clinton), both editors at the Cato Institute:
"Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes:
  • a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech, and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
  • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
  • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror, in other words, perhaps forever; and
  • a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.
President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."
I said it before and I'll say it again here. This midterm election is not about Republicans vs. Democrats. This is not about whether your incumbent Congressman or Congresswoman is the better candidate than their challenger. This is about creating partisan balance in Washington in order to restore and protect Constitutional constraints on government power now, before it is too late.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Just Vote Divided.

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