Monday, January 29, 2007

The Rule of Law -- no kings wanted.

There's an interesting thread at TPM about how best to counteract the Executive power-grab by those "anti-constitutionalists" who make up BushCo. Josh Marshall shares some good ideas from comments:

TPM Reader AWC on the anti-constitutionalists and how to fight them ...

This post reminded me of a long running complaint I have with Democratic strategists: we (Democrats) lack good branding and fail to hone in on marketing themes as Republicans do - undoubtedly because the Democratic spectrum is populated by people who appreciate nuance over black and white. I completely agree that we need to "preserve a powerful executive while instituting a renewed respect for the limits to presidential power." This makes sense to us, but it is difficult to employ as a brand. Our hesitancy to embrace President Bush's power grab as a talking point - because of our awareness of presidential power's critical import for civil rights and other issues - leaves us with a message that doesn't fully tap into Americans' deep suspicions of kingly power. Our response to "commander-and-chief" labeling should be "King George." We can worry about the balance of presidential power after we've stripped King George of his.

This is very true. And it's a key point. But devotion to the constitution is written into the fabric of American culture. So it should be possible to frame a vocabulary and political agenda in its favor that resonates across the political spectrum. Two key points are that Bush anti-constitutionalism is way outside the American tradition. Its intellectual roots are with foreigners. They are alien ideas. Touchy phrases, I grant you, but accurate too. Second, small-'r' republican government is courageous government. Secrecy, despotism and prerogative power are rooted in cowardice.

And this one that I like even better:

TPM Reader PC on Bush's anti-constitutionalism and the rule of law ...

With all of Bush's pretensions and usurpation of power, the overall the theme is a disregard for the rule of law. "Disregard for the Constitution," "Militarism" and "The Imperial Presidency" all describe some aspects of it, but the foundation of our republic -- arching even over the Constitution -- is that we have a government of laws, not of men. Bush has used fear, militarism and secrecy to increase his power, and it has all been aimed at increasing his discretion and allowing him to disregard legal forms and procedures -- even when he could accomplish the same thing by following them.

This leads me, however, to a story that shows just how powerful the U.S. democratic culture really is. I recently attended a speech by a former president of the American Bar Association, at which he excoriated Bush for ignoring the rule of law. The remarkable thing about this speech was the setting -- it was given at a meeting of our town's civic club -- The Wellesley Club. Although somewhat progressive (we are Massachusetts, after all) this is a club whose members are the upper crust of an affluent Boston suburb. And the speaker received a standing ovation! The American Bar Association and the Wellsley Club are not advocates of a progressive agenda. But they are part of a civic fabric that will fiercely guard our democratic institutions. And they will be around long after little men like Bush and Cheney disappear from the scene.

I have a copy of his speech, if you are interested.

I think it would be fair to say that upper crust or not, it's still Massachusetts, a very liberal state. But I think the larger point is right: the rule of law is a potent American value, one people believe in deeply and one they understand viscerally that the president has violated again and again.

This is really the key element for me and it cuts to the heart of all this hypocritical use of double-standards that so offends me about this administration. It's also really simple -- there is one set of laws and they apply to everyone -- no one is above the law -- and the laws are applied "blind-folded" i.e. no distinctions are made for "friends of the family". This is the only system that those within and without power can both agree to be subject to -- in other words, it's just.

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