Part-Time Principles: The Rhetoric of the Bush Administration

by Walter Brasch

    George W. Bush says he believes in up-or-down votes. He proclaimed it shortly after his first inaugural, and included that belief in his 2005 State of the Union address, when he demanded that "every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote."

    A one-vote majority, says the President, should decide nominations and issues. He constantly talked about up-or-down votes in the Senate for the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N., for bills to ban gay marriages, to make it illegal to burn the flag, and almost every bill his administration proposed. His words were echoed by the Congressional leadership and by the evangelical fundamental Christian base.

    He disagrees with Senate rules, which require 60 votes to override a filibuster. The reason President Bush believes in the "up-or-down" theory of governance is because for most of his Administration he has had a Republican Congress willing to do whatever it takes to advance a neoconservative political and social agenda.

    Since President Bush believes in one-vote majorities, it shouldn't have been a problem for him to accept a 238-194 vote in the House and a 63-37 vote in the Senate to allow medical researchers to use stem cells from embryos, with their donors' consent, that would have been discarded by fertility clinics. About 400,000 frozen embryos are in clinics; a few will be "adopted" by mothers who have them implanted in their uteruses; most embryos will be thrown away.

    Embryonic stem cells are the basic building blocks of life, cells that will develop into any cell in the body, and are the key to learning more about life itself. Stem cell research could lead to cures for Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, numerous cancers, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. Nancy Reagan, whose husband's last years were spent in the fog of Alzheimer's, is a strong proponent of stem cell research.

    Almost seven months after his first inauguration, President Bush declared that the federal government would fund research only on stem cell lines that had already been developed, and not for any new ones. He equated the medical use of stem cells with murder, and threatened to veto any new legislation to expand stem cell research. His veto threats had worked on 141 other bills over a five and a half year period, as the Republican-controlled Congress meekly revised bills or eliminated them.

    This time, Congress--faced by the political reality that about 70 percent of Americans supported expanded stem cell research--didn't buckle. Fifty House Republicans broke from the White House legislative controls; in the Senate, nineteen Republicans and all but one Democrat voted for the bill. The President renewed his veto threat.
    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) had asked the President, "not to make the first veto of your presidency one that turns America backward on the party of scientific progress and limits the promise of medical miracles for generations to come." Bill Frist--heart surgeon, Senate majority leader, and one of the most active voices in pushing the Bush-Cheney agenda--also opposed the veto. "Given the potential of this research and the limitations of the existing lines eligible for federally funded research, I think additional lines should be made available," Dr. Frist said.

    But the president did veto the bill, and neither the House nor the Senate had the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto. The President's veto, said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is a "shameful display of cruelty, hypocrisy, and ignorance." Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said he thought the President was "captured by his own ideology and taking his ideology to an extreme." Research, said Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) "will now continue in the private sector with insufficient funding and a lack of government oversight, all while millions of people wait for cures to devastating diseases.

    President Bush said in April 2002, "We have a moral imperative to protect the sanctity of life," and continued to throw "sanctity of life" in almost every speech or comment about stem cell research. At the time he explained his veto, he declared the bill--approved by significantly more than an "up-or-down" vote--"crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

    If the President honestly believed in a "moral boundary" and the "sanctity of life," he would not have exploited a couple of dozen "snowflake babies"--children born from implanted embryos--by using them as props in the East Room when he explained why he vetoed the bill.
    If George W. Bush understood moral boundaries and the sanctity of life, he would not have lied about the non-existent ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or the weapons of mass destruction he claimed were in Iraq in order to launch an invasion that has cost more than 2,500 American lives and caused injuries, many life-threatening, to another 18,000, in addition to 50,000-70,000 civilian deaths. He would not have decided that the Geneva Accords didn't apply to thousands of prisoners that his Administration confined in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and other prisons. If he had any kind of a "moral compass," he would have allowed prisoners to have due process, to be treated humanely, and not be subjected to "renditions," the transfer to secret prisons in countries that use torture.

    If this former non-combatant National Guard officer had any concern for humanity, he would not have ordered severe cuts in combat pay and family benefits for active duty military, proposed a $1.3 billion cut in veterans' benefits, and an increase in health care costs, while also pushing for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

    If he believed in a moral administration, he would not have allowed Halliburton, the financial empire once run by Dick Cheney, to continue to get several multi-million dollar no-bid contracts in New Orleans and Iraq after being exposed for price gouging and fraudulent business practices.

    If George W. Bush understood the meaning of the "sanctity of life," he would not have spent several minutes at a photo-op in Florida where he read "My Pet Goat" to children after being notified that the first plane had hit the Twin Towers. He would not have been embarrassingly slow and seemingly unconcerned to respond following the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake/tsunami in Southeast Asia or after Hurricane Katrina hit America's Gulf Coast.

    He would not have disregarded the ubiquitous warnings from the scientific community about global warming and the multitudinous pleas to preserve and defend the environment and all of its life. He would not have diverted funds for disaster relief, and cut back on health and welfare needs. He would not have placed political cronies into senior administrative positions in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then cut that agency's funding for disaster response.

    If he believed in "morals," he would have cut all ties with his good buddy, "Kenny Boy" Lay, whose company cheated thousands of employees out of their pensions, while the executives were living in luxury.

    If the President of the United States was concerned about "morals" and the "sanctity of life," he would have condemned hunting and the gun lobby that was one of the primary contributors to his political campaigns. He would have condemned the spurious and vicious attacks upon Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 primary contest, and the Swift Boat attacks upon Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 general election.

    There is a lot that George W. Bush, who campaigned on promises to bring morality to the White House, could do to prove he is a moral leader, one who believes in the sanctity of life. But, his record, not his rhetoric, shows otherwise.

    [Walter Brasch's current books are America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights and `Unacceptable': The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina. Both are available through amazon.com and other on-line sources. You may contact Dr. Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu]

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Joe Klein Doesn't Get Montana's Senate Race

Time Magazine pundit Joe Klein travelled to Montana for the first debate between Democratic State Senate President Jon Tester and Senator Conrad Burns, and his quote to Montana's News Stations shows he doesn't understand the race at all:
Joe Klein, a Time Magazine Political Columnist, says "you have an incumbent with a questionable recent history in Washington whose been part of the Abramoff scandal or at least mentioned in it and you have a challenger who is taking some pretty controversial positions like today his opposition to the Patriot Act."
It would be difficult to be more wrong in a single sentence.

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Bush's "Signing Statement" - Unconstitutional?

In a previous post I mentioned that Bush, when signing the bill re-authorizing the Patriot Act, issued a so-called "signing statement" to the effect that he will ignore the oversight requirements.  Today, The Boston Globe has more on the story.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

It struck me at the time that this was a blatant overreach by the President, and I did not see how it could stand up to Constitutional scrutiny.  Apparently, I'm not the only one who thought so.

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Bush Republicanism: Anti-Conservatism In Action

...No traditional conservative can support the Patriot Act. The rights of individuals are trampled by this radical expansion of federal power in the name of security. The Patriot Act does not significantly enhance the security of American citizens. Instead, it threatens their individual freedom. It is time for traditional conservatives to abandon Bush Republicanism...

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Bush Says He will Ignore PATRIOT Reporting Provisions

President Bush issued one of his infamous "signing statements" for HR 199 - the "USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005".  In it, he seems to say that he will ignore reporting provisions specifically laid out by his own party.  

Orin Kerr sums it up at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Some influential lawyers in the Administration believe that Congress has only limited ability to interfere with the executive branch, and such statements express the Administration's intent not to follow provisions that its lawyers believe interfere with executive power. In most cases, we don't know what the statements mean: the executive branch announces that it is taking a position based on its view of Article II, but never discloses exactly what that position is.

...

Congress has required DOJ to conduct audits and file reports, and we'll presumably learn the executive branch's view of the law when it refuses to comply in whole or in part with Congress's requirements.

One of the most troubling qualifications, I think, is this:

The executive branch shall construe the provisions...in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties. *

Think of what all that implies - impair foreign relations?  the deliberative processes of the Executive?  I think this is another invocation of the new anti-embarrassment legal principle.  Of course, as Kerr rightly notes, we won't know until it happens.  If there's one thing we're never going to get from this administration, it's a straight answer.

On a lighter note, I think it would be great if there was a Constitutional requirement that the President explain, in his own words, what his statements mean.

* Emphasis mine.

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