Signing Our Lives AwayThe US Constitution is a wonderfully malleable document that can evolve with the times. That's why it's still a vibrant piece of political engineering. However, the framers based that malleability on the premise that no single government branch would take undue advantage of that power.
Sadly, we're saddled with an administration that isn't in tune with this premise. Over the past few years, we've seen a Commander-in-Chief who fancies himself more as King George than President George. He's used a variety of tools to expand his Executive power at the expense of the other co-equals. He's ignored a laundry list of reasonable Congressional requests. He's poo-pooed the notion that the Supreme Court holds any sway over his decisions. And, his idea of Congressional oversight is, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do and you just nod politely and step aside." But, King George has one tool he loves to use more than any other - signing statements.
The Signer-in-Chief has set a signing statement record that's unlikely to be challenged for many years. Time after time, he's wielded his pen like a blunt instrument, expunging any whiff of checks on his power. When seriously challenged - as he recently was on the torture issue - he simply promises he'll never do such an odious thing while crossing his fingers and neglecting to retract his imperious signing statements.
But it's the campaign season, George is a paraplegic duck, and candidates will soon face questions about how they will ski the deep, groomed powder of statements he leaves behind.
It'll be tough on all of them. Amidst a turd-strewn political landscape, they will also have to answer whether they will unsign those signing statements. Because even idiots sometimes get it right, some statements might actually be legitimate keepers. However, the public trusts the author of those statements about as much as J. Edgar Hoover trusted Machine Gun Kelly. Voters will be extra-sensitive to any statements the next administration decides to keep - even if they do have a rare grounding in reality.
Politicians Are Politicians
Remember that politicians are politicians and when they inherit all that paper power they're going to find it mighty tempting to just keep it. The appealing politics of concentrated power may point them away from the Constitution's bedrock principles of checks and balances. They may think - as Georgie famously said - that dictatorships are a lot easier, especially if you're the dictator. It will take an extraordinarily civic-minded person to resist, but if they don't, we're stuck with all that crappy, autographed wallpaper for eternity.
Will a new President, left holding more Bushwhacked demons than Dante's inferno, be able to eek out a pragmatic strategy for the statements? They'll be awfully busy and the public will hold them responsible for everything they do or don't do to extricate the country from the other pits of hell we're in. I'm betting that most of the statements will stay. The sheer magnitude of the mess to clean up, coupled with the relatively complex nature of signing statements, doesn't make for a clean sound-bite or powerful political issue. The smart politician will duck it as long as they can and hope the public has a short memory of signing statements and their role in our governance.
We Need a Strategy
Asking for a signing statement strategy is perfectly reasonable, but it may be too much to practically expect of a President over their head in other crap pools to deal with. Still, we should ask and hold them responsible for cleaning up this particular Bushonian morass. As the Crapstorm-Creator-in-Chief says, fighting Civil Wars and putting out arsonous three-alarm fires is "hard work" - just look how hard he worked to get us into this much suckage. Voters must demand the next President work equally hard on a signing statement policy because it's the heart and soul of so many other issues the country faces.
Without a balanced plan to deal with the signing statements we'll never resolve the other issues that are on the fire. This is too serious a situation to take a pass on - for us and the next administration. If not resolved, we may find ourselves fighting a Civil War over here to keep from fighting a Civil War over there.
And, I don't think anyone wants that.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, February 03, 2007