Sunday, May 28, 2006

Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush

Cross posted at the Liberty Zone and Just Citizens.

Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institude examine the constitutional record of George W. Bush. The full text can be found here in .pdf format. Everyone who thinks Bush is upholding his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States needs to read this critical paper.

Because what Bush has done, according to Healy and Lynch, is to continuously seek to increase federal power and push the limits the Constitution places on governmental authority. After having examined the actions of the Bush administration for five years, Healy and Lynch conclude:

President Bush’s constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.

The study shows that the President has consistently failed to protect the First Amendment right to free speech, free thought and free expression. He signed the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform travesty -- acknowledged it was unconstitutional, that it restricted free speech for individuals, but signed it anyway! This appalling limit on free speech the law makes it a felony for a nonprofit group like the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club to broadcast an ad within 60 days of an election that criticizes an elected official by name.

Now do you understand why I call this act "The Incumbent Protection Act?" After all, if you can't criticize an incumbent candidate's paltry record on an issue right before an election without being prosecuted for it, you are giving an incumbent a huge edge in the election, especially given the American public's gnat-like attention span and willful apathy.

And we won't even go into those "free speech zones." I can understand the need to ensure the safety of our elected officials, but to put them purposefully out of the way -- behind busses, construction zones and far out of sight -- suggests more than just a desire to protect the President.

Bush and his administration have overstepped their boundaries and pushed the limits of executive power. Healy and Lynch claim Bush's view of executive power amounts to the view that, "in time of war, the president is the law, and no treaty, no statute, no coordinate branch of the U.S. government can stand in the president’s way when, by his lights, he is acting to preserve national security. That is apparent in a series of startling claims the administration has made in official documents and public papers, which include the following:"

• presidential power to ignore federal statutes governing treatment of enemy prisoners—as well as other federal laws that impinge on practices the president believes to be useful in fighting the war on terror;
• unilateral executive authority over questions of war and peace; and
• the power to designate American citizens “enemy combatants” and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror—in other words, perhaps forever.

Apparently, those powers also include torture, imprisonment, eavesdropping, expanded arrest powers and unconstitutional and unreasonable search and seizure. All these police-state tactics are brought to you by the War on Terror and in the name of "national security."

There are other blatant constitutional violations listed in this paper, although Healy and Lynch do note a couple of bright spots in Bush's presidency:

Early on in the president’s first term, Attorney General John Ashcroft made clear that it was the Bush administration’s position that the Second Amendment guarantees a personal, individual right to bear arms. In two federal cases, the Bush administration argued in formal court papers that the "Second Amendment... protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia... to possess and bear their own firearms, subject to reasonable restrictions designed to prevent possession by unfit persons or... firearms that are particularly suited to criminal misuse." That was a significant, if symbolic, victory for those who believe that the Second Amendment means what it says, that “the right of the people” means an individual, personal right, just as it does in the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments. The president has also appointed a number of federal judges who appear to take constitutional limits seriously and may be expected to look skeptically at broad claims of legislative power. However, whether the same judges will look skeptically at broad claims of executive power remains very much in doubt.

All well and good. But frankly, without substantive action, this is all just talk. And Bush's blatant disrespect for the Bill of Rights, his promise to sign the "assault" weapons ban if its renewal was passed by Congress, support for taxpayer-funded trigger locks, support for bans on certain types of ammunition and age limits to gun ownership makes his former Attorney General's admission that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms sound pretty hollow.

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