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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Bush’s ‘constitutional’ dictatorship

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham

    When America goes to war, all too often the real war turns out to be going on right here at home.

    Most of the recent criticism of President Bush has focused on his conduct as a wartime leader. Less remarked upon is his conduct at home, where he is presiding over what may well prove to be a major constitutional crisis.

    Until recently, Bush was the longest-serving president since Thomas Jefferson never to have issued a veto. Instead of vetoing bills he disagrees with, he allows them to pass and then sabotages them through something called a signing statement.

    A signing statement is a pronouncement the president may issue following the passage of a new law. It details the interpretation of it he plans to follow.

    Essentially, it allows the president to rewrite the law for his own purposes.

    For example, late last year both major parties united in Congress to pass a ban on torture. Bush, who had opposed the ban, seemed to acquiesce, saying he was glad “”to make clear to the world that this government does not torture.””

    Then, on Dec. 30, the Oval Office issued a statement saying the president would interpret the torture ban according to the “”authority of the president … and as commander in chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on judicial power.””

    The White House, the New York Times reported this month, “”has repeatedly declined to say what the president meant.”” It’s not hard to imagine why.

    There is no mention of signing statements in our Constitution. Instead, in Article II, Section 3, we find that the president is called upon to “”take care that the laws of the nation be faithfully executed.””

    Until relatively recently, signing statements were used sparsely; before 1980, only 75 had been issued in our history.

    The Boston Globe reported last April that Bush had challenged more than 750 statutes in his 150 signing statements. By comparison, the first President Bush challenged 232.

    Bush, author and former white House Council John W. Dean observed earlier this month, “”is using signing statements like line item vetos,”” or vetos in which the president strikes down part of a law while leaving another part alone. The Supreme Court decreed in 1988 that the president must either veto the entire bill or allow it to pass.

    The Constitution is forthright in its explanation of the president’s role in lawmaking; Bush, who has twice sworn an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution – the Constitution laid down by the Founding Fathers to protect the Republic, the Republic that was founded to carry out the will of the American people – has deliberately set out to undermine this role, “”to undermine and weaken the law,”” as Sen. Dianne Feinstein has put it.

    History presents us with countless examples of conniving rulers who pushed their countries into war to keep the masses quiet. Every war in American history has been accompanied by attacks on civil liberties and expansion of presidential power that would have been unthinkable in peacetime.

    And, with precious few exceptions, those wars left the American Republic a poorer place to live.

    If Bush’s war in Iraq and his reckless attempts to subvert the highest laws of the land have one thing in common, it is that they do nothing to improve the lives of the people Bush was elected to serve.

    The presidency, Vice President Dick Cheney declared in 2002, is “”weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the last 30 to 35 years.”” If one thing drives this administration, it is hatred for democracy and a desire for rule by the few.

    President Bush’s battle with the Constitution at home is part and parcel with his wars abroad. As the great political critic Walter Karp observed, there is no more efficient means of discouraging democracy at home than by exporting it overseas.

    Justyn Dillingham is a junior majoring in political science and history. He can be reached at

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