Your Government In A Nutshell

As most of you know by now, former presidential aide John Yoo wrote some of the internal memos that got the ball rolling on the unitary executive concept of presidential power. Today John Yoo met John Conyers.

Conyers: Could the President order a suspect buried alive?

Yoo: Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive. . .

Conyers: I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the President could order a suspect buried alive.

Yoo: Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a President . . . no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.

In the universe of weak dodges, this gambit is so flimsy that you have to wonder how Yoo kept a straight face. During the Abu Ghraib scandal these same Unitary Executive buffs were often asked whether the president could freely order torture and other forms of prisoner abuse. But he wouldn’t do that, they responded. Of course John Yoo’s bosses certainly did order torture, so the question isn’t exactly academic.

Being an insider Yoo knows full well what the president ordered, which is why the question puts him in a bit of a bind. If he reiterates the ‘unitary executive’ theory in Congressional testimony he will discredit himself, his associates and the entire Bush movement. But if he rejects it then he sets up the next question: what should the penalty be for a President who knowingly breaks the law? Yoo is too loyal a soldier to get caught in that trap, even if staying out of it makes him look like a moron. As the saying goes, it’s better to stay quiet and be thought a fool and open your mouth and piss off Dick Cheney.

Fundamentally, the reason why Bush officials like Yoo and Addington show such total contempt for Congress is also the answer to the question that Conyers asked John Yoo: a rule without a penalty is no rule at all. If Congress won’t enforce the law when the President breaks it, then why should he pretend the law is there? For all intents and purposes it isn’t. Yoo’s answer to Conyers, then, is to lean back, smirk and ask what are you going to do about it?

Both sides of that conversation know the answer: nothing. Maybe Conyers will hold another hearing and invite another Bush official to crap on his desk.


It’s hard to put into words exactly how disgusted I feel right now with my party and its weasel leaders. Glenn Greenwald, riffing off a post by John below, comes pretty close. I would throw in the ecstatic rightwing support for police state government powers (and I’m not talking about the fringe – the line starts at Andrew Sullivan and includes every Republican Congressperson save one) to make a larger point. On the subject of government power, the reversal was so extreme that it was like watching the GOP step out of a bodysnatcher pod. It became obvious America doesn’t have a conservative party any longer. There aren’t even that many conservatives; if it was Jews most cities couldn’t form a minyan. In the late Bush era, if you count out the fringe parties we have on the one hand reformed ‘conservatives’ whose domestic and foreign policy amounts to stalinism minus the healthcare, and on the other hand you have Democrats.

The obvious problem with that formula is that Democrats aren’t that institutionally opposed to the kind of ideas that neo-Republicanism holds dear. After all, since the FDR era left-right alignment Democrats traditionally argued for more government power and Republicans, gummint haters that they were, acted as the counterweight. The danger is that with the counterweight gone (or scared crazy, as the case clearly is) the ‘middle’ will be redefined as something between New Dealism and stalinism.

The Democrats are now at a pivot point – they can implicitly endorse the new ‘middle’ by chasing it politically (read: Steny Hoyer) or they can reject it and reestablish a new ‘middle’ somewhere close to where it was when the nation reacted with horror at the Church Commission findings and enacted FISA (read: Chris Dodd). Thanks more to the tireless efforts of Bush, Rove, Bill Frist and Tom DeLay than their own good qualities Democrats will win a sizable victory one way or another. Thus Democrats have a uniquely free hand to choose their direction and, as the governing majority, the direction of the country.

The key person in this equation isn’t Steny Hoyer. A spirited leadership challenge in 2009 can put him someplace where his antiquated Gephardtism can do less damage, and if he lacks the confidence of a Democratic President it will probably succeed. Too bad Hoyer won’t lack the confidence of the President. Rather than reject it Barack Obama has explicitly endorsed the Hoyer bill in toto, and so that’s where ‘the middle’ will be as far as the two parties are concerned, somewhere between New Dealism and the USSR. Let me correct myself then – the Democrats aren’t at a pivot point anymore. We pivoted in the wrong direction. That sound you hear is Pat Buchanan pounding Wild Turkey and sobbing.

Me, I’ll still support Democratic candidates for the reasons that John already listed. But for enthusiasm I’ll watch the Steelers.

26 replies
  1. 1
    dbrown says:

    If bush whack can now say North Diarrhea is not a terrorist state and can have sanctions removed, what does it matter to repubics if we become a stalinist state as well?

  2. 2
    BFR says:

    There aren’t even that many conservatives; if it was Jews most cities couldn’t form a minyan. In the late Bush era, if you count out the fringe parties we have on the one hand reformed ‘conservatives’ whose domestic and foreign policy amounts to stalinism minus the healthcare, and on the other hand there is the Democrats.

    I doubt the Republican party is going to survive 2008-2012 in it’s current incarnation. The problem has been that somewhere along the line, the GOP decided that complete slavery to their heads was a good idea – I suspect it has something to do with Nixon, so as presenty constituted, they cannot break with Bush in sufficient numbers to matter.

    There are too many of them who believe that personal loyalty to party leaders above any adherence to conservative principles is a winning strategy. I think this is going to be blown out of the water over the next few election cycles. What’s left of the national GOP will be looking for a new strategy and will return to limited government.

  3. 3
    Wilfred says:

    Wanking. Nothing is going to happen. The Democratic Party is NOT going to become the standard bearer for civil liberties or reduced government. Almost 30 years of the politics of exchange have left us with only a few options that can be reduced to the following calculus: You want gay marriage, or Schips, or universal health care? Then get ready to trade something for it. You make the call – do you go the wall on constitutional principles or do you wank on about ‘pragmatism’, or ‘political reality’, or whatever passes for ‘reasonable debate’?

    It means having some fucking balls, actually. Just as the right wing pisses its pants about TERROR, the so-called left wing shits itself over HEALTH CARE, or some other pussified What If kind of politics that is always already based on fear of some goddamned thing.

    Both parties are shit, led by the dead and supported by sheep.

  4. 4
    nightjar says:

    I’m not smart to get the changes in the attitudes of Americans that is going on right now. But it seems to me something fairly big is afoot and a paradigm shift is occurring. A lot of it is probably a big kneejerk from the Bush militarism and trashing of the economy and we’ll have to wait and see. But I can’t help but sense that America is trying to kind of do a molt into something better, by leaving behind a lot of old ideas. Not only with Obama getting the dem nom, but generally how we’ve been doing things even well before Bush. Not even during Vietnam and Nixon, did we have poll numbers that scream out that the country is pissed and is not going to take it anymore.

  5. 5
    Grand Moff Texan says:

    Greenwald is barking up the wrong tree.

    Yes, I know that the FISA “compromise” combines both wiretapping powers AND telecom immunity, but Olbermann was talking about the latter in the first quote and the former in the second quote.

    The corporatism inherent in telecom immunity IS “textbook fascism,” historically speaking, but Greenwald is eliding that with the second topic and that’s just sloppy writing, and completely beneath Greenwald’s usual standard.

    Saying Olbermann flip flopped is just not supported by the quotes Greenwald lays out.

  6. 6
    taoless says:

    on the plus side, at least the supreme court has reaffirmed our right to bear arms, so at least we can shoot back when the jack-booted thugs come to extraordinarily render us.

    as for obama, of course he’s pro-fisa amendment. he’s going to be the next president, which means he gets to have all those awesome-rad powers the house dems just gave w.

    cui bono, right?

  7. 7
    Punchy says:

    My whole comment just eaten. Fuck. Can John convince Bra and Panties Publishing to replace the Atari 2600 they have running this site?

    Cliff’s Notes version: Tim, quit pearl-clutching. The Dems are stymied at every turn by “exec. priv.”, and a court whose judge almost literally went Schultz on them when they sued to get docs.

    Impeachment is a non-starter. Name one R willing to vote. Name one R who wouldn’t cry and bitch and moan about just the vote on Articles for Impeachment.

    Wait until they own 2 of the branches and Justice Kennedy takes a dirt nap and then bitch if they’re acting like pussies. Until then, there’s a whole lot more complexity here than just “my Dems suck ass”, etc.

  8. 8
    nightjar says:

    Both parties are shit, led by the dead and supported by sheep

    Bleigh – that’s not true wilfred -Bleigh bleighahh

  9. 9
    Grand Moff Texan says:

    Here’s another example of Greenwald getting things seriously wrong:

    Olbermann closed by scoffing at the idea that telecom amnesty or revisions to FISA were necessary to help National Security:

    There is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution or protecting the people from terrorism, Sir. This is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution or pretending to protect the people from terrorists. Sorry, Mr. Bush, the eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat the thwarting of which could hinge on an email or phone call that is going through Room 641 of AT&T in San Francisco.

    No, Olbermann is not “scoffing at the idea that … revisions were necessary to help National Security,” not even close. How do I know this? Because Olbermann goes on for another two minutes saying that Bush can’t believe there is a threat if he’s holding the bill up (i.e., by veto threat) in order to get telecom immunity, and that if there is a threat, then Bush is personally responsible for the damage done.

    I don’t know how Greenwald missed that, but he’s terribly, terribly off-base.

  10. 10
    mr. whipple says:

    ” Let me correct myself then – the Democrats aren’t at a pivot point anymore. We pivoted in the wrong direction. That sound you hear is Pat Buchanan pounding Wild Turkey and sobbing.”

    why would buchanan sob? this is just what the gop wants because with every step to the ‘middle’ made by democrats, the gop takes two more steps to the right.

  11. 11
    WereBear says:

    That sound you hear is Pat Buchanan pounding Wild Turkey and sobbing.

    At this point, I’ll take what I can get.

    The night Obama won the Presumptive Nominee status Pat Buchanan looked like he had melted down and been hastily Thorazined.

    Good times, good times.

  12. 12
    crw says:

    In retrospect, Obama’s -cave-acceptance of this compromise shouldn’t be so surprising. If you actually go back and do a little research, he supported the ‘compromise’ on the USA PATRIOT renewal too. With similar language about going back and fixing things later. And that was actually a lot more damaging for civil liberties.

  13. 13
    D. Mason says:

    Both parties are shit, led by the dead and supported by sheep.


  14. 14
    ThymeZone says:

    We’ve actually had this conversation before. This is not about parties, in this context. Maybe the Republicans have framed the issue on their terms.

    But the point is, America is a torturing or war-mongering nation, and I assert that it is both, because its citizens support these policies in sufficient numbers. Blaming “parties” and “party politics” for the stuff is just nonsensical. If Americans in sufficient numbers actually wanted the war-mongering and the Constitution-dodging (for example, AUMF) and the aggressive-interrogation (torture) to stop, they’d vote aggressively for it to stop. They’d elect candidates who went after these things directly and unambiguously.

    They have not, they have done the opposite. It does no good to berate the representatives in a representative government when they are basically representing the citizenry. The fact that blog dwellers are against these things really doesn’t do that much right now other than maginalize blog dwellers.

    Change is probably coming, but it will come slower than you want, and in fits and starts … and most important, it has to start with the people. And I don’t mean polls. I mean votes, for actual candidates, with actual positions. Polls are worth shit until they turn into election results.

    Talk is cheap, and there is nowhere better to demonstrate this than on blogs, or on tv. Change is a lot harder.

  15. 15

    Wonder what’d he say if asked if he considers being buried alive torture?

    What if the “terrorist” (i.e. the person they’ve presumed is a terrorist) possibly has info on a supposed attack that may potentially kill thousands of Americans?

    Then would it be legal to bury this person alive?

    With or without coffin?


  16. 16
    WereBear says:

    Well, unless you are planning to dig him up again soon, I don’t see how you’d get much information from this mythical terrorist.

    This is a false argument, because the real world does not work that way.

    For instance, Irena Sendler.

    She was tortured by the Gestapo but refused to reveal the location of the children she had saved.

    That is the power of conviction.

    Under torture, people in the Middle Ages confessed to having sex with Satan.

    That is the power of torture.

    It is a false power, untrustworthy and immoral. People could tell the truth. Or lie. Or, like Irena Sendler, not speak at all.

    It’s both sick and pointless.

    It’s indefensible.

  17. 17

    WereBear Says:

    It’s both sick and pointless.

    It’s indefensible.

    Agree entirely.

  18. 18
    rawshark says:

    Can you think of anything that would tickle the GOP leadership and republican assholes in general more than to see the opposition tearing up their own nominee so they (GOP) don’t have to?

    Me neither.

    Remember Bush lied to ‘center’ himself for the sake of electability, then reverted to character. Why does our guy have to be in character now? I’m voting for him anyway. If he has to bait and switch to attract some middles then he does that. I don’t have to like it to know he’ll still do the job I need when he gets the gig.

    Repeat thse two over and over:

    Supreme Court.

    Mike Brown.

    I’m voting for a letter this year. Just like in ’04.

  19. 19
    Katherine says:

    The opposition to the war, the opposition to torture, the opposition to warrantless wiretapping, the support for impeachment, has consistently been AT LEAST twice as high among the U.S. population as among Congressional Democrats, and often quite a bit more than that.

    Take my representative, Rahm Emanuel. Democrat. Supports war in Iraq, opposed legislative attempts to stop the war in Iran, supports the FISA cave in, useless on torture. He represents a liberal district of Chicago & its suburbs, which votes 20 points more for the Democratic candidate in the presidential election than the national average (for comparison: Dennis Kucinich’s district votes about 6 points more Democratic than the national average. Bernie Sanders’ old district was also noticeably more conservative. Dick Durbin, who is far, far more liberal than Emmanuel, has no trouble getting elected although he represents conservative downstate as well as liberal Chicagoland.) I would LOVE the opportunity to vote for a more liberal primary challenger than Obama. But no one runs. He’s the incumbent, he’s in the House leadership, he’s the machine candidate, he gets thousands of dollars from corporate PACs ($30,000-odd from the telecoms, third most in Congress)–who has the resources to challenge him? The netroots donors can’t target 100 incumbents at once. And that’s assuming you can even find a candidate, which is not so easy; running a doomed campaign for Congress is hard work. Politicians won’t take the risk; non-politicians are, you know, busy, with their jobs, and families, and so forth. Maybe there’s a pissed off millionaire who’ll make a run, but he hasn’t appeared on the scene yet.

    The Democratic caucus is full of Rahm Emanuels. Power gets entrenched in our political system. It is a gross slur on the voters of his district to think we’re a bunch of warmonger corporate sell outs.

  20. 20
    Katherine says:

    “I would LOVE the opportunity to vote for a more liberal primary challenger than Obama.”

    This should be “Emmanuel,” obviously. Boy, there’s a mistake I wouldn’t have made a week ago.

  21. 21
    Wilfred says:

    Emmanuel is the House version of Lieberman -‘he’s with us on everything else”. Amazingly, after only 2 terms in the House he is the fourth ranking Democrat. Scumbag.

  22. 22
    Sojourner says:

    Can you think of anything that would tickle the GOP leadership and republican assholes in general more than to see the opposition tearing up their own nominee so they (GOP) don’t have to?

    Perhaps the nominee should remember that his first allegiance should be to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. After all, it’s the heart of the presidential pledge during the swearing-in ceremony.

  23. 23

    I’d like to second TZ’s assertion that the public votes the way it does and not as progressive electorate. I’m old enough to have paid attention to elections back to Kennedy and I have yet to see an approximation of kinda like a pretty big miss of my left politics by an elected president and I can only think of a handful of Congressmen.

    The American public is centered well right of most democracies even when it’s not nearly as right as it is now. I’ve run in a Dem Primary for US House in a big district, I have an idea. A mildly left populist run reached only 11% of Dems in a poor turnout with 4 candidates. I might have done better with a better campaign and a lot of things but a same old same old Dem won going away, and got handed her head in the General.

    I’m not uncritical of our representatives, I’m real critical, but the lion’s share of blame lies with the voters. If shallow BS wins the day what the hell do you expect to get? Balls?

  24. 24
    Mr Furious says:

    TZ’s comment sounds remarkably like George Carlin’s riff on voting and complaining about politicians.

    It’s pretty hard—when you really think about it—to blame the politicians when we are the ones who put them there and keep sending them back.

  25. 25
    sparky says:

    just to second, or fifth, TZ and Wilfred. also, tony judt made the observation that one reason the US is what is today is a consequence of not being punished as a consequence of losing a war. in addition to the thrust of our military/corporatist needs, that idea offers a plausible rationale for our military fetishism. (obligatory flame protection: there’s a distinction between respecting a sacrifice and making a fetish out of war. (i can’t believe i have to say that–we really just suck)).

  26. 26
    bs23 says:

    must be awesome to be Yoo and walk into a class and feel the contempt of the students….

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