Friday, March 30, 2007

Privilege: Bush v. Clinton

From time to time, I submit here something from the mind of Reg Henry. Mr. Henry is a columnist from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He usually has something interesting to say - a new spin on things. I don't agree with him all the time, but I respect is voice enough to listen. He is usually not too political, but he made an exception this time. Like a lot of us, I have Bush fatigue. It sounds like Mr. Henry does as well.

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REG HENRY: The president is one privileged executive

Given the popularity of lawyers - who rank with weasels, used-car salesmen and journalists in the public's esteem - the great furor over the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys is the season's political surprise.
An impartial observer might conclude that it lacked the necessary ingredient to seriously threaten the president - that ingredient being sex.

Why, if only a blue dress were somehow involved, perhaps the president could be impeached, because in America making incompetent war and lying about it is not an impeachable offense, but making indiscreet love (sort of) and lying about it is.

But instead of dirty laundry, which the American people understand better, everyone is left to ponder the proper etiquette for firing political appointees for political purposes - specifically, why it is right to do so at some times but not others.

Still, the controversy does have legs, giving Democrats in Congress something to do in the periods when they are not making their sadly doomed efforts to stop the aforementioned war in Iraq.

To be sure, the fuss over the federal prosecutors has provided some jolly moments for those Americans with a sense of humor.

For example, there was President Bush, who has always jumped to the strings of his partisan puppeteers, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, calling on Democrats to "drop the partisanship."

In another note of levity, various conservatives have been defending the president because Bill Clinton did the same thing (sort of) - the same fellow who in their view is the devil. "Bush can do it because the devil did it" is a humiliating argument, however you cut it.

(I am not crazy about Clinton myself, but I don't think he is actually the Horned One - Horny One, maybe. If the number 666 applies to him at all, it is merely the innocent sum of the number of cheeseburgers he eats in a year. I note with concern that Al Gore, his former vice president whom I continue to admire, has apparently eaten his share. He now looks every inch the candidate, as a foreign newspaper wittily remarked.)

With subpoenas to White House aides threatening, what is more interesting than the exact throw-weight of the scandal is the core principle that Bush defends - executive privilege.

Unfortunately, most Americans don't understand this important concept at all. The Bush administration, which has promoted an expansive notion of executive privilege, defines it this way: We are the executive and we are privileged and you are not. Elections have consequences, except when Democrats win them.

Well, it's hard to argue with that. With great patience and magnanimity, Bush has told the unprivileged that he will allow relevant committee members on a bipartisan basis to interview key members of his staff. He will also provide all relevant documents and e-mails related to the firings. What he resists is the notion that his staff be subpoenaed and have to testify under oath as if they were mere servants of the American people.

I have to admit that Bush is completely right about this. It would be far better if restive members of Congress came to the White House for a nice chat, perhaps a cup of coffee and a cookie and be sent on their way with a hearty laugh and all the relevant facts presented to them.

One problem with sworn testimony is that they love the Bible in the White House, as you know, and the idea that perspiring aides might have to put their hands on it and take an oath risks making the Bible indecently soiled with grubby handprints.

Worse yet than the issue of cleanliness, those swearing on the Bible must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is ridiculous. How in the world can any government function if it doesn't have the freedom to lie?

And why start telling the truth now at this late stage? Pity poor Dick Cheney, who has made an art form of the untruth. Indeed, his main medical problem is not his heart or blood clots in his leg but the various Pinocchio-dectomies that his doctors must perform on his nose on a regular basis. He is supposed to tell the truth, too?

It is positively un-American to think that this most patriotic of American administrations would now get in the business of truth-telling. Besides, it has already been established in the law that a president can only be forced to testify under oath in a civil case involving hanky-panky, a theory that surely extends to his aides.

Possible obstruction of justice is not hanky-panky. Not in George Bush's America.



2 comments:

Ryan said...

"Worse yet than the issue of cleanliness, those swearing on the Bible must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is ridiculous. How in the world can any government function if it doesn't have the freedom to lie?

That is such a true statement, no pun intended.

Charles said...

What he resists is the notion that his staff be subpoenaed and have to testify under oath as if they were mere servants of the American people.

I thought they are servants of the American People. They are supposed to work for us right. Well they aren't doing a very good job at it.

Personally I think the reason everyone and everything is so divided in this country is politics. I change the channel when I hear four words, President, Bush, Democrat, and Republican.