The Boston Globe is now reporting that the president believes he has the authority to disobey over 750 laws passed by Congress. And those are just the laws passed on his watch. As we've already seen with the FISA statute, the president also feels he has the right to ignore laws passed by previous administrations as well.
If the president feels he is free to ignore a great number of laws - and he is on the record as implementing that belief by disobeying some long established laws - there is a whole different government running the country than we think there is.
There is the government with the laws we think we have. And the government with the laws the president secretly says we have. This secret set of decisions on which laws will and won't be applied is what makes up the new shadow government.
The idea that the president would say he has the authority to ignore the strictures of laws passed by the United States Congress might seem like some sort of liberal exaggeration to some. It seems so outlandish. But don't take anyone's word for it, ask the administration -- they readily confirm it.
In fact, they're proud of it. They think they are reinstating the real executive powers of the presidency. Powers that the Courts or Congress have never agreed to and that are outside of the plain, or any reasonable, reading of the Constitution, but nonetheless, the administration believes is owed to them.
This makes Nixon's imperial presidency look like child's play. In a democracy, we have a president who is literally saying he is above the law. There are 750 laws he does not have to faithfully execute.
Now, the media has a herculean task in front of it -- identify all the laws the president is actually breaking. He claims the right to break 750 of them, at least. We already know he's breaking one of them - the FISA statute on warrantless spying (which by the way was passed by a previous administration, so it is not even one of the 750 he claims the right to ignore).
Attorney General Gonzales has hinted in his testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee that there might be more laws the president is already violating, including warrantless spying on Americans in purely domestic communications.
Most of the implementation of these laws is done in secret under the guise (and sometimes reality) of national security. Though some are on domestic issues like affirmative action, which I can't imagine even this administration could argue is a national security matter. But the media now must pick through all these laws to uncover what is and is not being followed by this administration.
They must unearth what the shadow government is actually doing, not what we think they're doing based on laws we thought were being followed.
This is an extraordinary power grab. There is no precedent for it, or justification. It is grossly undemocratic. I cannot believe the President of the United States of America says he has the power to ignore laws passed by the people's representatives.
George Bush has crossed the Rubicon. These are not the powers of a president. They are the powers of a dictator. If that seems like an extreme statement, I assure you that it is not my words that are extreme but their actions. The words fit the gravity of the situation. As Sandra Day O'Connor warned recently on a similar issue:
"It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."
I do not subscribe to the school of thought that we are already at those ends. But we are also clearly past the beginning stages of this unprecedented power grab. And if we don't act soon on Justice O'Connor's warning, we might be at the end before we know it.
We have a president who says he doesn't have to follow all the laws of our democracy -- and who ironically claims to spread democracy throughout the world. We have a rubberstamp Congress that absolutely refuses to check this out of control president. We have an administration that assiduously avoids court review of its actions, as it continues to pack the court with right wing extremists (Sam Alito advocated using signing statements to exercise presidential power when he worked under Reagan, though even he didn't suggest going as far as this administration has).
Our final check in this democracy is the people. It might sound clichéd, but it is entirely true. But the people must have the right information so that they make the right decisions. This is where the press comes into play.
The media fell asleep at the wheel before the Iraq invasion and we had an electorate that believed Saddam Hussein was connected to the September 11th attacks against us. Forty percent of Americans still believed that going into the 2004 election and nearly ninety percent of our soldiers in Iraq still believe that today. If I believed Saddam had ordered 9/11, I'd want to attack Iraq, too.
Wrong information equals wrong decisions. People can't be blamed if they don't know. It is the job of the press to let them know. The 2006 elections are the last chance to check this imperial presidency. If the press fails our democracy at this critical juncture and the electorate doesn't know what we know by the time they step into that voting booth, we will have done great damage to our country and its principles.
We already know what laws this administration thinks it doesn't have to follow. Now, the press has six months to figure out exactly what laws they are and are not following in reality. We have six months to figure out what exactly this shadow government is up to.