Signing away our freedom

President George W. Bush, through his use of “signing statements,” has declared himself, on more than 750 separate occasions, above the laws of Congress, the laws of the land and even the Constitution of the United States.

With each stroke of his pen, Bush wipes away more of the freedoms once guaranteed by the Constitution, undermines the system of checks and balances that is supposed to protect our government from despots and brings this nation closer and closer to the precipice.

His actions come, ironically, as the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday of its independence, an independence threatened as never before not by Islam-spouting madmen but by an opportunistic politician with a fountain pen.

Signing statements allow a President to say he will choose to ignore a law passed by Congress if he feels that law infringes upon his powers during times of war or national crisis.

Thanks to Bush, we’re at war, a war based on lies, a war predetermined by an administration that decided, long before the events of September 11, 2001, to wage against a manufactured enemy for political means.

Those attacks provided a much-welcomed opportunity to galvanize a shell-shocked nation into an ill-conceived war that cannot be won, fought against a determined enemy who cannot be defeated in a land that neither requested nor welcomed our manufactured campaign to free it.

As more and more details about Bush’s abuse of power emerge, as public disclosures increase over his abuse of the Constitution, his escalating erosion of individual and civil rights and his actions that result in 24/7 monitoring of the lives of nearly every man, woman and child in this nation, some members of Congress are finally waking up to the fact they are powerless against this man who has built the Presidency into an a citadel of power unmatched in U.S. history.

Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to know more about how Bush pulled off this power grab. He opened hearings on the expanded use of Signing Statements this week but Specter’s actions may be too little too late from a compliant Congress controlled by the President’s party and hammered into submission by an over-politicized terrorist attack.

Journalists, for the most part, have also been reluctant to pursue the effect that Bush’s expanded use of signing statements have on our freedoms. A notable exception has been Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe, who first broke the news of Bush’s increased use of Signing Statements:

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation’s sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files “signing statements” — official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register. . .

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills — sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

Elizabeth Drew has also tackled the subject in a piece for the New York Review of Books:

For five years, Bush has been issuing a series of signing statements which amount to a systematic attempt to take power from the legislative branch.

Bush asserts broad powers without being specific in his objections or saying how he plans to implement the law. His interpretations of the law, as in his “signing statement” on the McCain amendment, often construe the bill to mean something different from -and at times almost the opposite of-what everyone knows it means.

For the first time in more than thirty years, and to a greater extent than even then, our constitutional form of government is in jeopardy.

That event more than 30 years ago was a Constitutional crisis called Watergate and a President named Richard M. Nixon, who resigned rather than face certain impeachment and conviction for his crimes.

That is something we should all think about as we attempt to celebrate Independence Day.

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