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America is several decades into a revolution that has been all but unreported in our press and is never spoken of in Presidential campaigns. Early Presidents dabbled in it but it was Harry Truman who opened a new front in the revolution when he claimed the authority to start a war without the consent of Congress. The Bush administration has nearly completed the transition to a dictatorship and neither McCain nor Obama have disavowed the resulting shift of power to the Presidency.
While there was a time when members of Congress fought this power grab, especially during the Nixon days, hardly a whimper is heard any more from the “people’s chamber” about executive privilege, signing statements or the “unitary executive.” Each of these practices and policies amounts to a dismantling of the Constitution and a grave threat to freedom.
Of these, executive privilege is arguably the most pernicious and dangerous claim of executive power. It started as a claim on behalf of the President that neither the courts nor the legislature should have the power to compel the disclosure of matter that would endanger the national security and which was secret by necessity. While that claim has no explicit source in the Constitution itself, logic lends some credence to the argument.
The President can argue with some justification that battle plans in a time of war should not be disclosed to the public and that the duty of national defense justifies an executive privilege in limited circumstances. But since the advent of the phony “Cold War” we have been in a perpetual state of war so the claim of privilege has been invoked ever more frequently.
Since that initial expansion of the claimed privilege, it has been said to include nearly every communication with and within the executive branch. The theory is that without protection from outside disclosure, the President would not get the unalloyed advice he needs to carry out his duties. This is pure and unadulterated bullshit.
Implicit in this claim is the assertion that no one tells the truth in public but only behind closed doors. While this is probably true, it is the greatest indictment of our form of government possible. It means that the public will never have the necessary facts to make an informed decision because all the real facts are hidden from their view.
We may have lost all power to reclaim any shred of democracy in the face of this power grab because Congress has become complicit in the takeover and the press has gone silent on anything other than drivel and sensationalism. The few who dare speak out against this new form of dictatorship are marginalized and ridiculed.
Just examine the sweeping claims of executive privilege of the Bush administration – everything is now secret and the President who has gotten nearly everything wrong defends this expansive secrecy as necessary for the survival of our nation. The only thing surviving this onslaught is the power of the few over the many.
Democracy is gasping for air.