Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The president is not a king

Josh Marshall makes a simple but very important point and he makes it well: the president is not a king.
But one thing is clear. And that is that official Washington -- or a lot of it -- doesn't get that democracy matters. The constitution gives the president great power and latitude in the exercise of his war powers. But not exclusive power. The president is not a king. Anybody who knows anything about the US constitution knows that it was designed specifically so that the president's need to get the Congress to finance his wars would be an effective brake on the vast power he holds as commander-in-chief.

In practice, Congress's power to declare war is little more than a nullity. War financing is where the constitutional rubber meets the road. It's true that war declarations were far more regularly invoked before the last half century. But anyone who doubts that the framers saw the power to finance or not to finance as the Congress's real power need only familiarize themselves with English constitutional history of the 17th and 18th century which was the framers' point of reference.


The way this is 'supposed' to work is that when the president takes a dramatic new direction like this he consults with Congress. That way, some relative range of agreement can be worked out through consultation. National unity is great. Or at least that's the theory.

But here we have a case where the president's party has just been thrown out of power in Congress largely, though not exclusively, because the public is fed up with the president's lies and failures abroad. (Indeed, at this point, what else does the Republican party stand for but corruption at home and failure abroad? Small government? Please.) The public now believes the war was a mistake. Decisive numbers believe we should start the process of leaving Iraq. And the public is overwhelmingly against sending more troops to the country. The country's foreign policy establishment (much derided, yes, but look at the results) is also overwhelmingly against escalation.

And yet, with all this, the president has ignored the Congress, not consulted the 110th Congress in any real way, has ignored the now longstanding views of the majority of the country's citizens and wants to plow ahead with an expansion of his own failed and overwhelmingly repudiated policy. The need for Congress to assert itself in such a case transcends the particulars of Iraq policy. It's important to confirm the democratic character of the state itself. The president is not a king. He is not a Stuart. And one more Hail Mary pass for George W. Bush's legacy just isn't a good enough reason for losing more American lives, treasure and prestige.


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