It was, perhaps, a dark and rainy day. Through a clearing in the forest the King's horsemen came upon the menacing silhouette of a distant medieval fortress, host to the land's most dangerous criminals. Inside, two of the infamous guests were hovered in a clandestine meeting scheming secretly to exploit hapless serfs struggling to put a meager potato on the table. The echo of a sinister laugh was heard wafting across the wet grass by those toiling stooped and bent in nearby fields dominated by the imposing castle. No, these were not the Sheriff of Nottingham and his evil executioner Sir Guy of Gisbourne plotting to overthrow King Richard. Our protagonists are, even more ominously, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney.
That hackneyed fantasy and the views expressed by Cheney in his recent interview with Limbaugh have equal claim to the ridiculous. The Veep actually said about Obama and his team, "Once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, then they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place."
Dick, we just love what you've done to the place!
As if out to prove he has lost his grip on reality, Cheney goes on to claim that "We did not exceed our constitutional authority, as some have suggested." Really? Have we entered the Land of Oz, where lies become fact simply through assertion? Let's see if this magic really works: I have a full head of hair, and I am six feet tall. Hmmm. Wait. Just another minute. Nope, I am still short and bald. The magic, sadly, does not work, so we need to go back and question Cheney's fantastic assertion about his fidelity to our founding document. Let us count the ways in which Bush and Cheney exceeded their constitutional authority.
Bush reserved the right to ignore nearly 800 laws that have been enacted since he became president. Remember that his oath upon taking office includes a promise to uphold the law. He seems to have missed that part. When signing a new law, he appends a statement noting which provisions he chooses to ignore. His use of signing statements is "utterly without precedent" according to a report by the General Accountability Office. Other presidents have sparingly and judiciously issued signing statements when a constitutional issue of Executive Branch power was in question, but Bush's use of the device far exceeds all of his predecessors in quantity and scope.
Bush abandoned every principle dear to Americans, and lost 230 years of international good will, when he authorized the use torture. In fact, Bush did so with a signing statement, when he subverted legislation introduced by John McCain that specifically prohibited the use of coercive interrogation techniques. Bush went on national television and lied to the American people when he said in 2006, "The United States does not torture" even though two secret White House memos written in 2003 and 2004 explicitly endorsed waterboarding, the very form of torture for which we prosecuted Japanese military officials after World War II. This overreaching extension of executive power is one of the clearest examples of Bush's disdain for our constitution.
Bush authorized the illegal warrantless wire tapping of millions of Americans through the Orwellian "terrorist surveillance program" thereby assuming all of us are potential terrorists until we demonstrate otherwise. He then blatantly lied about his involvement and the extent of the program, which began in 2001. These treasonous acts were entirely unnecessary to protect us from harm. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows for surveillance by obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Court (FISC) for up to 72 hours after the surveillance began. Not one incident has ever been attributed to a delay in surveillance because the government sought a warrant from FISC. Of course not, because in fact under the law the surveillance can begin before the warrant is even sought. Bush trampled the constitution for absolutely no gain.
Bush politicized the Department of Justice in a way that would make Richard Nixon glow with pride. He subverted our constitution by using the DOJ to influence the outcome of elections by instigating investigations into bogus claims of voter fraud. Remember, Nixon was ousted from office for analogous abuses of power. When nine attorneys general refused to cooperate, Bush simply fired them, reminiscent of when Nixon forced the resignation of Elliot Richardson, then William Ruckelshaus, because both refused in turn to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Bush committed a crime against the constitution here, a crime for which another president was forced from office.
Bush and Cheney suspended one of our most precious rights, the right to face our accusers in court, and the right to challenge our detention. On American soil, in American jails, Bush has incarcerated without trial American citizens who were deprived of a lawyer, not allowed to face accusers, denied a writ of habeas corpus to seek relief from illegal detention, held in secret from family, and deprived of light and human contact for extended periods. This blatant violation of our constitutional rights is history not learned from the shame of Japanese detention camps. The same mentality, and same disdain for our constitution, has led to both examples of atrocious disregard for the law.
These are all crimes against the constitution, and examples that put lie to the shameless claim by Cheney that "We did not exceed our constitutional authority, as some have suggested." Bush and Cheney have clearly never read the Federalist Papers, in which James Madison anticipated the power grab of an expanding executive branch. Our Founding Fathers sought to prevent such abuse by making clear that the president possesses no power not specifically granted under the Constitution. Even a rudimentary understanding our history proves Cheney's assertion to be obscenely self-serving, at a time when Bush explicitly claims that there can be no limits to executive power of the commander-in-chief during times of war. His war has no end, so his powers are unlimited. That claim alone exceeds their constitutional authority, but his illegal actions bring life to the fears expressed by Madison. Cheney can make all the absurd claims he can, but the truth remains clear: Bush and Cheney have trampled on our constitution, threatened our civil liberties, and declared themselves above the law. Cheney needs to crawl back under the rock from which he came, or go back to the Death Star of origin.
Right now January 20 looks like a long distance into the future. That glorious day can not come soon enough. We will look to Obama to restore the dignity, honor and respect of the Office of the President.