Executive privilege run amok

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.


  1. almandine

    Well Phil… You’ve got the platform and assumedly the contacts… you SPREAD THE WORD!!!!

    Then again, anyone with a pulse knows what the hell is happening… but 5 will get you 10 they vote “their” guy back into office. There’s only been one serious contender for Pres that isn’t bought – and ALL you people thought Ron Paul was somehow a problem.

    The ONLY hope is that McCain somehow craps out as a candidate and the Repub convention erupts in the biggest electoral food fight ever known… and we get WHO ??? as the actual candidate.

    GET REAL or kwityerbitchin…

  2. pollchecker

    Phil — correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Nixon try to use “Executive Privelege” to cover up Watergate? And did not the Supreme Court rule on that which was what forced Nixon to resign or face impeachment?

    I don’t understand how he is getting away with this Executive Privelege junk especially when it comes to testifying before Congress. Hell, even Clinton couldn’t get away with this crap. Until GW, people cowered at the thought of a Congressional Subpeona.

    So I want to know how the hell he is getting away with usurping the Constitution and all other laws?

    If the POTUS is not responsible for obeying the laws he took an oath to preserve and defend, then not one single person in this nation should have to follow the laws.

    I would love to see that used as a defense in a court of law.

  3. VietnamVet

    Well, I guess the answer to all this is in Bush’s opinion about the Constitution: “…it’s just a goddamned piece of paper!” No small wonder that he and his neo con buddies do not think they have to stay within the bounds of that document.

  4. pollchecker

    thanks for the comment but unfortunately it doesn’t answer my question. And I seriously want to know how the hell they get away with this Bull****!

    In 232 years of American History, I don’t think there has EVER been a POTUS that has been allowed to consistently break the law and disregard the constitution and the Bill of Rights as GW Bush has done! And I believe it is important to determine how to handle this for future reference.

    Otherwise why wouldn’t anybody ever elected do as they damn well please?

    And again, if elected officials are above the law of the land…then there is no valid law of the land…only anarchy. What is good for the goose is good for the gander!

    Imagine what this country would be like if no one followed the law!

  5. old_curmudgeon

    If Congress does not have the will to defend the Constitution and the Laws based upon it then there is nothing to stop the grab of power being undertaken. The Executive knows that the Legislative branch has been emasculated by fear of branding and smear so they continue to take the power and authority ceded to them by a gutless congress.

    To paraphrase Rev. Jackson, Congress had their collective nuts cut off years ago. It’s just now beginning to sink into the public’s depth of field – which is generally pretty narrow.

    So I guess to answer Pollchecker’s question, it’s because Congress refuses to uphold the oath of office they took for fear they will not be re-elected because, as everyone knows now, or should, it’s all about getting elected and staying elected.

    But, that’s just his old Curmudgeon’s opinion.

  6. pollchecker

    sad to say…old curmudgeon, that what you say is true. I guess that the Bush administration has successfully pulled off a coup so to speak…..

    Coup d'[‘e]tat (Politics), a sudden, decisive exercise of power whereby the existing government is subverted without the consent of the people; an unexpected measure of state, more or less violent; a stroke of policy. — Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary

    Isn’t that what we have here?

  7. Lillibet

    Lillibet P.U.R.P.L.E.
    Power Unchecked Results in Power Limitlessly Expanded

    Put another way, the Imperial purple becomes so much more than a fashion statement, beyond a blended, not quite one or the other, partisan state on election day. Without hearings, coupled with action to limit the hugely expanded Presidential powers evident in signing statements and launching of preemptive wars (to name but two), with meaningful restoration of the Balance of Powers, we shall have, the true end of the Constitution.

    Unchecked Executive Powers, such as have existed for the past 7 plus years, this once Constitutional Republic, will have an Emperor ruling from the White House, with a lapdog Congress and a compliant Judiciary.

    Or, what we have right now. Without limit or end.

  8. ekaton

    Damn! I gotta go read the damn constitution AGAIN! I’m sure “executive privilege” must be mentioned there somewhere, but darned if I can remember where. Can someone help me out here?

    — Kent Shaw

  9. pollchecker

    there are no such words in the Constitution. I’ve checked and rechecked and even googled it(grin).

  10. Phil Hoskins

    If you want to trace the history of this pehnomenon — and goes back through both party’s Presidencies — read Charlies Savage’s “Takeover”

    Phil Hoskins

  11. Sandra Price

    Good Commentary Phil. It puts the full responsibility back on the voters. We need to discuss how much authority we want to give the White House and the Congress.

    The voters are too busy to worry about how the Constitution is allowed to ooze into whatever President and Congress is currently in power. I seriously believe that only a Third Party that can run on the restoration of the Constitution can bring the people back to the core of our laws.

    People all around me are riled up and few can state with certainty that their candidate would be the best one. We must look at the over all problem of having either party in full control over the Constitution. Without a secured base within the Constitution, we are going to continue to flounder around fighting among ourselves for our agendas.

    The future of America must always be first in our plans. We know that the neoconservatives have harmed our freedoms at home and abroad and they must be shown the door. If they are the Republican base, then we have the method to do it. I feel the same way about the religious right. Have they done anything for the freedoms and liberties in America? Throw them out of power and send them back to their churches and schools.

    I will read the book Phil, thank you.

  12. mterry

    Mr Hoskins:

    Not only a well thought out and coherently stated point of view, but one that I agree with completely.

    Yet as Ms Price points out, there is no clearly superior candidate in the current race.

    I also agree that we as the ones that actually hold the power, need to decide just how much of it the POTUS and Congress will be allowed to exercise. Failure to make this decision will not stop the rampaging beast that the Executive branch has become.

    We’re dealing with a junkie here. The drug of choice is power. Time to dry out the addicted, and send them packing.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Hopefully my local library has a copy.

    M. Terry.
    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
    ~George Washington

  13. rjf7r

    I think we’ve passed the “tipping point” when most of Congress seems accepting of executive privilege overreach. Even if we the people wanted to do anything about it, we’d have to elect a totally new set of representatives in order to do anything about it. We wouldn’t do that without a continuing sense of outrage in the media — but that won’t happen, the media is OK with it. This is our new America — we won’t revolt for a principle — or even a “g-d piece of paper.”

  14. Phil Hoskins

    I keep resisiting the urge to despair and give up. Obviously i have not learned my “lesson” yet and keep trying to bring the issue up.

    To some extent what I say here is “preaching to the choir”, but if you too refuse to give up, I would urge you to spread the message to as many people as you are willing to.

    Frankly, I have no faith that either candidate will give up much of the power grabbed by Bush, and there are only a few people in Congress willing to speak out.

    Phil Hoskins