Some lessons from W

As the election nears, the media & campaigns focus more and more on, what this year is a much smaller number, undecided voters. Personally, I see most of these people the way they were portrayed in the Daily Show Samantha Bee/Jason Jones skit from earlier in the week ( Seriously, what do these people need to make up their mind? After the longest presidential campaign in recent history, you really cannot make up your mind? Where have you been?

This post is not for them (clearly). There is another group, which is smaller still, of what I will call conscientious objectors. There are some people who will vote on November 4th for third party candidates. Anecdotal stories may lead some to believe they have made a difference in past presidential races à la Ralph Nader in 2000 (a charge I agree with here but it could be an emotional response) and/or Ross Perot in 1992 (and I do not think he caused Bill Clinton’s victory, if anyone outside of the Clinton campaign helped Clinton it was George H.W. Bush himself). While every person has a vote, not everyone’s vote carries equal weight thanks to the Electoral College. The conversation about that will have to wait for another day but since it is the system we have, it is what we have to use until someone comes along with something better. Having said that, it is critically important that people in certain states vote. And I hope they vote for Barack Obama. Now I understand the protest vote and appreciate it. I do, however, think if someone lives in a ‘swing state’ and they choose to either not vote or vote for someone other than John McCain or Barack Obama, that decision is an irresponsible one.

Often I hear people say things like “Well, who we elect president doesn’t matter much because Congress controls the purse strings.” True. For many people, the position of POTUS is merely a figurehead. This is where Dubya comes in and will show why I think even conscientious objectors should vote for Barack Obama. We have learned many things from Dubya but I think the following show why who we put in the White House matters.

  1. The Supreme Court: The next president will appoint at least one (probably more) justices to the Supreme Court and that is a big deal. Justices do not always behave the way the person who nominated them would expect. That’s fine. The problem is that once they get there, they get to stay until they die (they all have excellent health insurance, FYI). Their decisions affect our lives (see DC v. Heller, good or bad it has forced DC to change its laws). I could almost stop there because it is just that important. Of course I cannot leave this topic without mentioning part of the reason we are in the mess we are in today, Bush v. Gore, which is why Dubya got to move into 1600 PA Ave, NW to begin with.
  2. War: The War Powers Act (of 1973 I believe, it was a response to Vietnam) requires the President to go to Congress before they take the country officially to war. There are two caveats here, the president can send troops anywhere in an emergency (Reagan did it in Lebanon) and as Dubya and Cheney showed, Congress is much too easily manipulated. Make no mistake, if Gore had gotten into the White House we would not be in Iraq right now. They don’t call the president “commander in chief” for a nothing.
  3. The priorities of the federal government: Yes, it is true that Congress funds the government but the Executive Branch has a lot of power. A lot of power. They have a lot more now than they did eight years ago, thanks to Dick “evil genius” Cheney. They set the tone with the people they appoint to their Cabinet and everywhere else. One Justice Department may enforce certain laws over others. My favorite example is the Violence Women Act, which the current DoJ does not consider a priority. This is a bill to help victims of domestic violence. During its passage a group, which sounds normal (is there any group that calls themselves ‘totally insane people for x’?) but isn’t opposed the bill. They are the Concerned Women for America. Totally right, wing nut jobs all the way. You can look into them. Their members now oversee the enforcement of this law. This is a very small example – as is former AG Ashcroft’s decision to cover the statues at the DoJ building but never think the federal government doesn’t impact your life. Trust your water? One of Dubya’s first acts as president was to try to change the standards for arsenic levels in your water. It was the only time George Will actually correctly summed up my position, which is/was that I would like our water to be as safe as possible. Don’t drink tap? You shower, brush your teeth, wash your clothes with what? A Britta? Or look at the EPA. How long was Christine Todd Whitman there? Not long because it was clear Dubya et al weren’t interested in the environment (and this was before the White House rejected their proposals on the Clean Air Act because they were sent in an email!). This is not just about climate change but what species we protect and quite literally how safe the air we breathe is.
  4. Signing statements: in my social studies class we studied the Constitution. We learned that Congress passes bills and the president signs then into law (“I’m just a bill” is going through my head right now). Well, when s/he signs said bill s/he can add something to the bottom that clarifies or changes the meaning and practical implications of the legislation. Thinking maybe they taught that on a day you cut class? They didn’t. That’s because this doesn’t appear in the Constitution. President Reagan was the first president to use them much and before him they were primarily symbolic.

    “No United States Constitution provision, federal statute, or common-law principle explicitly permits or prohibits signing statements. Article I, Section 7 (in the Presentment Clause) empowers the president to veto a law in its entirety, or to sign it. Article II, Section 3 requires that the executive “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.

    Signing statements do not appear to have legal force by themselves, although they are all published in the Federal Register. As a practical matter, they may give notice of the way that the Executive intends to implement a law, which may make them more significant than the text of the law itself. There is a controversy about whether they should be considered as part of legislative history; proponents argue that they reflect the executive’s position in negotiating with Congress; opponents assert that the executive’s view of a law is not constitutionally part of the legislative history because only the Congress may make law.

    Presidential signing statements maintain particular potency with federal executive agencies, since these agencies are often responsible for the administration and enforcement of federal laws. A 2007 article in the Administrative Law Review noted how some federal agencies’ usage of signing statements may not withstand legal challenges under common law standards of judicial deference to agency action. [6]

    I consider myself a pretty well informed person but I had no idea this was going on until a few years ago.

  1. Politicking v. governing: There is a BIG difference. People who are excellent campaigners may not be so good at governing and vice versa. George HW Bush was better at governing. His son is better at campaigning, and clearly it is where his interests lie. How many times have we read and seen how this administration has turned the DoJ into its own political police force? Hired/fired US Attys based on their personal politics? Granted every time we change presidents most political appointees change but they all are supposed to follow the law and Constitution not their respective parties.
  2. Lastly, because number 3 is so important, privacy. I am a liberal. I like government. I believe it is there to do for us collectively what we cannot do for ourselves individually. I do not think 9/11 gives it carte blanche to do whatever it wants. I do not think they need the Patriot Act nor do I like the changes they made to FISA. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act created a court to hear the government’s arguments for why they listened to conversations without a warrant. Law enforcement agencies had up to three days of listening in before they had to consult the court and between its creation in 1978 and 2001 the court denied the government five times.

These are some of the lessons we have learned about the Executive Branch from Dubya. Oh, and if all that didn’t convince you that your vote for Obama matters I have two words for you: President Palin.

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