Friday, March 23, 2007

The Wimp Factor, Redux

Long time readers of this blog may recall that many moons ago (more like a year), I wrote a long think piece about, among other things, the inability of the Bush administration to cowboy up and give straightforward answers about difficult situations called The Wimp Factor.

President Clinton was called a liar, yet he rarely prevaricated (except of course, during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinski, but who the fuck cares if he lied about a blow job except for those with a visceral deep-seated hatred of all things Clintonian?)

Comes this story this week:
Bush has vowed to oppose any attempt to compel aides to testify under oath in probes into whether last year's dismissal of eight of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys was politically motivated.

The president offered this week to have his aides meet with lawmakers under conditions that Democrats and even some of Bush's fellow Republicans have called unacceptable.

"We're told that we can have a closed-door meeting with no transcript, not under oath, limited number of people, and the White House will determine what the agenda is. That, to me, is nothing," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
I could get into a whole long drawnout discussion of checks and balances and the repudiation of Congressional oversight and even how this is being spun in that direction.

That's precisely the distraction the administration wants. It takes the focus off "The Wimp Factor," which lately, is running very very high in the White House.

Think about it: Bush and his staff have faced more and more challenges to their stated policy goals...and have buckled under the pressure.

With another administration, even say, Ronald Reagan, you could call this "statesmanship," but I seriously doubt any credible historian will see it that way in the years to come. The kindest way to look at this is to call it "politically calculated".

But that doesn't excuse the fact that, as with all bullies, when confronted by superior firepower and complicated strategies (as Reagan did in Beirut), Bush is folding up his tents and running for cover.

What the administration is engaged in is running out the clock, a time-honored if disreputable way for a team with a slim lead to keep control of the ball away from the other side until the game clock runs down.

You see it in football all the time: less than a minute to play, less than 3rd down, the team with a two-point lead snaps the ball, the QB takes a knee and thirty second are run off the clock.

Cheap. Cowardly. But effective.

In the case of the White House, the "lead" is the secrecy of the information leading up to what can charitably be called as "cheating," by abusing the conditions of the Patriot Act to depose eight prosecutors, some of whom had active investigations into Republicans nationwide, and replace these with prosecutors more loyal to what has been termed "the Bush agenda" (What agenda is that? Allowing cronies to pilfer at the public trough, like Duke Cunningham? Actually, could be, given we're talking about Republicans who somehow don't seem to mind being seen as ripping off the United States taxpayer.)

Likely, the House will issue subpoenas today (expect the Senate to do likewise shortly), and the White House will refuse to allow them to be served (or worse, they will be served and then torn up), which will create a fairly major Constitutional crisis:
Without a compromise, a lengthy court fight could ensue, possibly lasting until after Bush leaves office in January 2009. Republicans and Democrats have urged that common ground be sought.

Any court battle probably would turn on the issue of executive privilege, a legal doctrine invoked occasionally throughout U.S. history to shield presidents and their aides from having to answer questions or turn over information to Congress or legal probes.
Ultimately to be decided in the Supreme Court. Bush's Supreme Court.

Well, now at least we know why Harriet Miers was even considered for the court:
The Senate committee authorized subpoenas of Rove along with former White House counsel Harriet Miers and deputy White House counsel William Kelley.
Even if she recused herself when the case was brought up to the bar, she'd be involved in the discussions over the case.

Executive privilege saw its heyday during the Watergate era, and again during the Lewinski investigation. Clinton, however, agreed to testify under oath. Courage, that takes. A Man For All Seasons, indeed.However, in Nixon's case:
The Supreme Court addressed executive privilege in United States v. Nixon, the 1974 case involving the demand by Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski that Richard Nixon produce the audiotapes of conversations in the Oval Office of the White House in connection with criminal charges being brought against members of the Nixon Administration. Nixon invoked the privilege and refused to produce any records.

The Supreme Court did not reject the claim of privilege out of hand; it noted, in fact, "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 decisionmaking process." This is very similar to the logic that the Court had used in establishing an "executive immunity" defense for high office-holders charged with violating citizens' constitutional rights in the course of performing their duties.

The Supreme Court however rejected the notion that the President has an "absolute privilege." The Supreme Court stated: "To read the Art[icle] II powers of the President as providing an absolute privilege as against a subpoena essential to enforcement of criminal statutes on no more than a generalized claim of the public interest in confidentiality of nonmilitary and nondiplomatic discussions would upset the constitutional balance of 'a workable government' and gravely impair the role of the courts under Art[icle] III." Because Nixon had asserted only a generalized need for confidentiality, the Court held that the larger public interest in obtaining the truth in the context of a criminal prosecution took precedence.
You'll notice that it's Republicans who deign to honor the Constitution when it suits them, not Democrats.

Naturally, the Bushies found a loophole and are claiming that the need for secrecy in this case rests on the doctrine of the ability of advisers to speak freely without recrimination.

Which raises a whole nest of ugly questions, mostly centering around, "If the advise was so controversial, then what the fuck could it possibly have been in a fairly straightforward case?"

The Patriot Act allowed for the firings. No law was broken there, and all the Congress wants to do is to understand what the mechanism was, and how the replacements were determined, since these positions generally have to be filled with the endorsement of the Senate under its advise and consent powers in Articles I & II. Too, you'll note that Article I, establishing Congress, was written before Article II, so important did the framers feel a public legislature was to the nation.

And oaths are a vital part of how any business, governmental or private, is conducted in this country. The United States is curious in that so much about this country is transacted between strangers on a handshake and a word given.

Ultimately, the quarrel comes down to taking an oath:
When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own water.

And if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again.
(yes, the movie was on this morning on HDMovieNet...thank you, Mark Cuban!)

And this is precisely why Bush won't let his people swear out an oath to testify to the truth, and nothing but the truth. He knows they would be unable to stand that test, and ultimately, the entire house of cards would tumble in on itself.

And that, this vainglorious, self-indulgent, ignoramus, could not stand. James Wolcott is as puzzled as the rest of us about this:
That's what's so strange about this percolatiing scandal. Instead of defusing it, dousing it, sedating it, Bush & co. have amped it up to a mini-Watergate decibel level of confrontation and document spew, complete with a former Watergate cast member. When Dick Cheney famously told Pat Leahy to go fuck himself, he and the rest of the administration clearly never anticipated the day when Leahy would return to powerful chairmanship; I think they internalized Karl Rove's visionary scheme of a permanent Republican majority and thought the future was in the bag. Now they're holding the bag and it's leaking all over their laps.