President Bush and Vice President Cheney need to make up their minds about just what their job description is. Currently they are flip flopping in areas that were never considered options by the country’s original founders.
Way back when this administration took over the White House and began its overhaul of much of what most of us hold dear, Cheney told members of Congress they had no right to know who attended his energy enclave, and the Supreme Court supported his claim of executive privilege, the definition of which appears to be that government can operate in secrecy without congressional oversight or public accountability. What we got of course, were programs that favored the oil and gas industries and a thumb-of-the-nose to the rest of us. Enron’s egregious price manipulation in California was but one example of what the Bush hands-off policy engendered. It is safe to assume Ken Lay was at that early meeting but was he was just stupid or criminally complicit in the debacle that Enron eventually became?
In any case to this day no details about that meeting have been made available. But here’s the thing, most people who are knowledgeable about energy CEOs and their associates are pretty sure they know who was there. Why doesn’t Congress call a bunch of them to testify and ask them if they were indeed there? Corporate leaders can’t claim executive privilege nor can they take the fifth since their actions did not constitute criminality. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Even more fun, perhaps would be a reversal of Cheney’s executive privilege position since he now claims to be a member of Congress as nominal President of the Senate and is therefore not subject to rules and practices that relate to the executive branch. Raum Emmanuel’s suggestion that if the vice president is to be taken seriously on this issue (which most legal scholars regard as ludicrous) then the House should no longer fund his executive staff and only budget as his Senate role would dictate.
Oddly enough, at first Cheney’s office did comply with the executive order that mandated an agency review of how his office was handling classified material – – something William Kristol, Cheney’s chief of staff at the time, said was a monumental nuisance and completely unnecessary. He also commented that when Bush came to office, agencies were not working well and there was a sense of urgency about this, although it would be hard to make that case given the cronyism and incompetence that define this administration. But what caused the recent objections to continued oversight of his office and his attempts to close down the agency in question?
Could it be a desire to hide the administration’s tendency to classify and declassify information at random and for political reasons? Could it be to avoid discovery of the vice president’s involvement in the Valerie Plame affair? Those friends of the administration who claim there was no underlying crime in the Scooter Libby case and that he wasn’t in any case the original leaker should be reminded that he was one of many leakers and was certainly a secondary, confirming source. And no matter what else, he lied and obstructed the investigation as to the origins of the intent to expose Plame’s CIA connection. The public is told repeatedly that if they have nothing to hide they shouldn’t mind be wiretapped or otherwise surveilled. Although this is not a sufficiently good reason for governmental spying on US citizens the same argument could be applied to the vice president who obviously has plenty he’d like to keep hidden.
For his part, the president seems to feel he is a co-legislator with Congress. His signing statements have the effect of gutting laws he doesn’t favor and redefining the substance of others. It may be that Congress on both sides of the aisle will finally make it clear that the language and sense of the laws they pass have gone through a long process of debate and negotiation, and that it is neither the president’s role nor his right to change their legislation at his whim. If there’s one thing that could induce legislators to forgo partisan affiliation, having their distinct function and constitutional authority undermined by the executive branch could certainly be it.
There doesn’t seem to be much hope that this president and his entourage will change the way they do business all that much. If they have no answers they make stuff up, which is why we don’t hear so much about Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq anymore because in presidential lingo they are all Al Qaeda now. And press conferences continue to be a joke with Tony Snow insisting the administration always follows the law and Dana Perino, refusing to answer a question about water boarding, making the patently untrue statement that “we do not torture”. But at least occasionally the sound of snickering can be heard in the room.
As Jon Stewart observed one night he isn’t only a taxpayer, he is an “attention payer”. Let’s hope there are an increasing number of attention payers in the country who can perhaps force a new awareness on the part of the president and vice president as to what their job descriptions are and to whom they are accountable.

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