Trying to make sense of the doublespeak with which this White House afflicts the public is an exhausting task. In the area of taxes, closing loopholes that allow companies to hide taxable income in off-shore entities becomes a “tax increase”. And according to the administration, Iraq is the hub of our “war on terror” although our presence there seems to serve more as a terrorist recruiting tool than otherwise.
Most stunning of all the bewildering interventions undertaken by the president, however, are his far-ranging claims of executive privilege, his endless executive orders and his descriptions of what Al Qaeda is and where it operates. Discrepancies in presidential analyses of how things work are never adequately explained, and not in recent memory has failure been so shamelessly reconstructed to pass for success.
Nevertheless, even with tanking approval ratings, there are those among the faithful who cling to the notion of a resolute president determined to “win” in Iraq and keep the bad guys ‘over there’ instead of marching in the streets of our cities and towns. So when Mr. Bush finds himself in political turmoil he just locates a friendly audience, like at the Air Force base in Charleston this week where he proceeded to give a course in ‘Al Qaeda past and present’.
You have to give his handlers credit, though, for helping him master a flawlessly enunciated list of Al Qaeda leaders and operatives from all over the Middle East and Europe. That alone must have taken hours of an intensive tutorial. In the end, however, the familiar 911 connection was resurrected as the rationale for our continuing occupation of Iraq. And while most experts in the area would disagree with the president’s assessment of Al Qaeda’s dominating influence there he pleads with the American people to trust him once again.
Perhaps, for some, unwavering commitment to a cause or principle is reassuring. But the failure to re-assess events as they occur is not a sign of strength but rather a sense of the world so distanced from reality as to be operationally irrelevant. The ugly truth may be that, according to estimates of generals on the ground, large numbers of American troops would need to remain active in Iraq for at least two more years to effect positive results. Or, quite possibly, military leaders have no real way of knowing anything of the sort, and most of us here at home are left without any real way of deciding who knows best, although we’re pretty sure it isn’t this president and his entourage.
Having been buffeted by a constant barrage of disinformation, secrecy and calls for blind, unquestioning patriotism, the American people are losing faith in their government. Among those on the right, however, voices are raised in protest against the time wasted by congressional investigations – – how they are just witch hunts and “gotcha” tribunals. But there are, as well, significant numbers of the engaged electorate concerned that this administration has been allowed to operate with so little oversight and such disregard for constitutional provisions – – why we were hoodwinked into a disastrous war and how, suddenly, the rule of law has become just a sometime thing in this country.
For every question raised by Congress, the media or the American people there are non-answers, obfuscation or actual lies from the administration or those who serve it. The spectacle of Alberto Gonzales testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee and refusing to answer a direct question, forgetting or seemingly just ‘making stuff up’ was astonishing. The refusal in general to hand over requested materials pertaining to the fired US attorneys and other matters is something quite beyond disrespect for a co-equal branch of government, and the distinct possibility that the Attorney General perjured himself is a stunning indictment of what the justice system has become during the Bush presidency.
Tony Snow angrily asserted at his press conference the other day that “executive privilege” was a basic presidential right yet, decisions from early on suggest otherwise. In fact the precedent for privilege is hardly settled and judicial opinion over time has been that “…the executive cannot decide unilaterally what is and is not privileged.” (USA Today on line, 7/16/07) And in the unanimous opinion re the Nixon tapes, the Supreme Court held that while presidents have a right to confidentiality in their “high level communications” they do not have “blanket immunity from the judicial process, especially when…executive privilege was based on a broad, non-specific interpretation” of what (in the case of Nixon) “the president claimed was in the public interest.” The current president seems to feel he can extend what has been called a “presumptive” claim beyond himself to anyone within shouting distance of his office.
Similarly, a new executive order issued by the president referencing “enhanced interrogation methods” for the CIA makes it clear that those “few bad apples” at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were in fact fruit from the poisoned Bush in the White House. Guidelines so imprecise and indistinct leave plenty of room for on-site interpretations and almost limitless options.
Thus this president and his administration expect Congress to accept the right of the executive to decide which practices and laws it will support and how it wishes to construe the Constitution. With so many claims based on so little proof this president has over-stepped his authority; the American people should make it clear that this is still a country based on the rule of law and that their representatives in Congress speak for them and must not be ignored.

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