18 May, 2007

Executive Privilege

Stephen Heersink posts some timely, lucid, and polemic thoughts on Executive Privilege as practiced by the current occupant of the Oval Office. I'm going to post some quotes and comments below, but please do read the entire original; it's well worth the time.

In discussing the history of the idea, Heersink notes:
Ever since George Washington became the nation's first president, our government's chief executive has appealed to "executive privilege." Infrequently, even hesitatingly, but under "special" circumstances and situations. Executive privilege, in this sense, is an Executive's exemption from accountability and scrutiny for reasons outside the ordinary functions of an open and free society for extraordinary reasons -- often for "national security" and/or "access to candid/privileged counsel."

But as the Watergate incident reminds us, "executive privilege" cannot be invoked to "hide" corruption, malfeasance, ineptitude, illegality, or the "people's right to know." In 1974, the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon held: "the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties" and that "[h]uman experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances and for their own interests to the detriment of the decision-making process." But, it granted no "further reach" of Executive Privilege.
Take note of the particularly narrow construal the Court makes. Now compare that with the increasing invocations of such privilege by the White House. Heersink notes the appalling performance(s) by the current Attorney General as a example of the depths to which the administration has sunk.
In our system of government, this "absolute executive privilege" just does not stretch as far as Bush's delusional imagination. Observing the nation's Attorney General deliberately deceive Congress and the Public to "hide" the President's actions through dissimulation will necessarily persist, because Gonzales' departure would "open" an opportunity to get past the grand-standing, deceptions, and dissimulation. Gonzales, therefore, has to stay. He's the Wall of Separation. He's the Barrier. He separates "access" and "clandestine," "disclosure" and "obfuscation," "open" and "closed," "executive" and "everyone else."
Sad, but true. I have all but given up watching or reading the news. It seems as though every new story drives me further into despair. What new perversion waits just 'round the bend? When the President of the United States believes that the Constitution is "just another piece of paper", what depravity is off-limits? As Heersink notes:
This untenable tension between a delusional man's belief in absolute executive privilege and an excessively-timid and uncertain Congress, held in suspense by a confused, even indifferent, electorate, is in fact a constitutional crisis. We have a Leader who maintains he is the law, he is the executive, he alone has absolute executive privilege, and that he is not accountable to anyone, except his phantom deity! By all ordinary standards, these assertions of "executive privilege" are imperceptibly indistinguishable from a tyrant's claim to absolute rule. As Mr. Bush repeatedly states: He's the Decider.
I truly believe that we stand at a crossroads in history. We have a choice: follow our current path and end in tyranny or choose anew the path laid for us by the Founders: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Democracy isn't just a choice; it's a moral imperative. Neither is it some sort of gift, in the sense that it can be bestowed upon us by others. We must earn it and by our actions constantly strive to maintain it by fighting those who would take it from us. I believe that history should reflect the fact that our current President is one of the worst if not the worst ever to hold the office and that the current administration has done more damage both to our nation's internal functioning and external image than any other. History should also record the fact that we as a people refused to stand idly by while it happened.

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