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The Collective
Sunday, December 21, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

From today’s interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on FOX News Sunday:

WALLACE: This is at the core of the controversies that I want to get to with you in a moment. If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?

CHENEY: General proposition, I’d say yes. You need to be more specific than that. I mean — but clearly, when you take the oath of office on January 20th of 2001, as we did, you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

(Emphasis mine)

First, this is all-too reminiscent of Nixon’s statement “when the president does it that means that it is not illegal”.

Second, the notion that because the country is “at war” (which is a rather amorphous state of being these days1 ) that the president can, as a general proposition, do whatever he thinks is best equals a legal policy is a frightening notion and is authoritarian to its core. It reminds me of what I often tell my students about generals in military coups who suspend the constitution in order to “protect democracy” as a perfect illustration of basic authoritarian governance. To suggest that whatever the president does in a time of war to protect the nation is legal is to make the president himself more powerful and important than the Constitution itself. One cannot, by definition, protect the Constitution if one i elevating oneself above it.

While this is hardly new or surprising from Cheney, it is somewhat shocking to hear him be so brazen and clear about it.

h/t: Sullivan

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  1. Indeed, despite the casting of Bush as a “war president” it seems lost on the administration we are not, legally, “at war.” []
Filed under: US Politics | |
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3 Responses to “Authoritarian Thinking”

  1. Patrick Watson Says:

    Cheney is also flat wrong about the oath. The “all enemies, foreign and domestic” language is in the VP oath, which is also taken by other governmental and military officers.

    The president takes a different oath - in which he swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” See Article II, Section 1.

    You would think someone in Cheney’s position would be more familiar with the Constitution he has sworn to defend.

  2. Captain D Says:

    Actually, officers in the Army swear to protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    It’s pretty much in the same spirit as the president’s oath; we serve the Constitution, and by its power only do we serve the president. Should the president ever act unconstitutionally and the rest of the government did not do anything about it, the military leadership would me morally, legally, and ethically bound to preserve the integrity of the constitution.

    In any case, Cheney/Bush are hardly the first to assert wartime powers, and they have hardly been the most powerful executives in our history; lest we forget, while WW2 was being fought the president not only rounded up Japanese-Americans and threw them in camps, but also essentially nationalized manufacturing to the point that no domestic cars were made during the war years - the plants were all turning out tanks and planes. Everything from sugar to gasoline was rationed. Most of these things were done on executive authority.

    I look around and I see some wiretapping issues, and I see a few hundred people who were rounded up on foreign battlefields being detained at Gitmo, possibly wrongfully. I do not see thousands of Arab-Americans living in camps like the Japanese in California in the 40’s. I don’t need a ration book to buy a gallon of gas.

    This business about Bush and Cheney being tyrants, despots, power-crazed - a lot of their predecessors asserted far more power than they did, and not only got away with it but were praised for it. Their assertion of wartime powers is hardly the first time this assertion has been made, and to call it the most severe assertion of that power in our nation’s history is laughable. It’s not even in the top five.

    I wonder how far into the Obama administration we will still be blaming Bush. My bet is the wailing will still be going on in 4 years and everything that goes wrong during the Obama administration will be heaped on Bush/Cheney.

    Five bucks. Any takers?

  3. BJ Latas Says:

    All you are doing, Captain D, is patting down the hackles of war, etc., by comparing ‘tyrants, despots’ and ‘power-crazed’ actions by mere degrees. It all comes under the same heading: ‘Wrong! And, your flip wager simply agitates the dangerous tendency to avoid calling a spade a spade. Actions are accountable, regardless of the tedious inconvenience they pose on the code of conscience and morality that would serve to protect our Constitution. The echoes of this insidious, torturous, God-forsaken Bush-Cheney administration will surely resonate long after you and I have had a moment to comment on them. Sir! BJ Latas, January 5, 2009

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