Thursday, February 16, 2006

Will to Power

George Will comes out against C-Plus Augustus' Imperial Presidency.

The next time a president asks Congress to pass something akin to what Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001 -- the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- the resulting legislation might be longer than Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." Congress, remembering what is happening today, might stipulate all the statutes and constitutional understandings that it does not intend the act to repeal or supersede.

But, then, perhaps no future president will ask for such congressional involvement in the gravest decision government makes -- going to war. Why would future presidents ask, if the present administration successfully asserts its current doctrine? It is that whenever the nation is at war, the other two branches of government have a radically diminished pertinence to governance, and the president determines what that pertinence shall be. This monarchical doctrine emerges from the administration's stance that warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency targeting American citizens on American soil is a legal exercise of the president's inherent powers as commander in chief, even though it violates the clear language of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was written to regulate wartime surveillance.


The administration, in which mere obduracy sometimes serves as political philosophy, pushes the limits of assertion while disdaining collaboration. This faux toughness is folly, given that the Supreme Court, when rejecting President Harry S Truman's claim that his inherent powers as commander in chief allowed him to seize steel mills during the Korean War, held that presidential authority is weakest when it clashes with Congress.

This is, as most of Will's critiques of Bush, sweetened with some back-handed praise:

Congress should make all necessary actions lawful by authorizing the president to take those actions, with suitable supervision. It should do so with language that does not stigmatize what he has been doing, but that implicitly refutes the doctrine that the authorization is superfluous.

Will doesn't think what Bush did was wrong. That Bush is trying to render Congress irrelevant now that they want to exercise oversight is what bothers him. As it should bother everyone. Bush fans really need to realize that someday someone else from another party might be in office, and might build on these precedents of supreme Executive Power to do things they actually disagree with. And, as it is virtually a scientific law, power and authority accountable to no one will always be abused and applied haphazardly, because there are no incentives or consequences for getting it right or wrong. Congress in this time of unified government is slowly rendering itself irrelevant because they treat Bush with kid gloves. And that treatment is going to be hard to reverse later.