Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How Much Power Does the President Wield?

had an interview the other night with two guys who are trying to get both and impeached. I hadn’t taken it seriously before — maybe because I assumed nobody could do it — but they convinced me.

Their point is that Bush (and especially Cheney) are grabbing power from Congress and putting themselves above the law by opening citizens’ first-class mail, and similar illegal shenanigans. They have made themselves unaccountable, establishing precedents that will follow in future presidencies unless checked. It’s not enough just to wait another year and a half and vote them out of office. They can’t run next time anyhow.

Congress, or at least has declined even to entertain the idea of seriously. As a result, de facto, the power of the president will remain in the tool kit for the next president to use when he/she is in a jam and needs extra leverage. If we don’t blow the whistle now, we’ll allow this power-grab to become standard practice, to be invoked by any future president who needs it. That sounds right to me.

Besides, last night on TVO’s “The Passionate Eye” I saw proof that Cheney's former company was a primary beneficiary of the loose administration of many billions of dollars in Iraq. It seems that there was Iraqi oil money in US banks when the invasion took place, so was supposed to use that money to rebuild . The US laws regulating such matters were suspended, and so were the Iraqi laws, so the process lacked accountability. The dinars were changed into $100 U.S. bills and tons of the cash were sent to Iraq, to be stashed in vaults that sometimes were not even locked. Halliburton did send in invoices, but for goods and services hugely inflated. Many billions of dollars in Iraq money were stolen or misappropriated, leaving hospitals and other facilities inadequately supplied.

It seems that Cheney, the real power behind the presidency, is even worse than Bush himself, so there is more pressure for him to be impeached. I received an email poll, which I dutifully checked off “yes” and sent back to be counted with the others favoring impeachment. The US population as a whole seems to be almost two-thirds in favor of impeaching Cheney. I don’t remember the numbers for Bush.

The rationale is that there’s too much power in the Oval Office. But is that really the case?

I think so, but (of Stratfor fame) thinks not. I was surprised to read one of his stimulating essays in which he claims that presidents are greatly constrained and don’t have nearly as much room to make original decisions as people assume.

Democrats, he points out, have won control of Congress but they are not making any decisions that actually reverse Bush’s war strategy – which proves to Friedman that no American politicians, including presidents, have much real power. I can hardly agree with him. This one may lose office because of his abuse of power, if the movement for impeachment grows.

Anyhow, Friedman says that since most people — notably most Iranians — do mistakenly believe that any US President enjoys immense power. Hence they are following the next election closely and waiting to see how it will turn out before deciding their own course of action.

But the next election is more unpredictable than the usual one, where there are several rules that allow one to gauge the probable outcome. First, no senator can win. Second, No Democrat can win unless he or she is from the Confederacy. Third, no Republican can win who is not from California, or Texas.

But this time, the are going to nominate a senator from the northeast — Clinton or Obama — instead of John Edwards, who would fit the bill nicely otherwise, since he is a southerner who is no longer a senator.

And the Republicans are probably going to nominate Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, neither of whom is a senator but also neither of whom is from California or Texas. Schwarzenegger would be an ideal Republican candidate but he’s not eligible constitutionally. So the outcome of this election is inherently unpredictable.

And despite his abysmal ratings in the polls, Bush continues to act as if he had plenty of confidence. This is perhaps because foreigners don’t know what to expect, even after an election, which will not become clear for 18 months. According to Friedman’s explanation:

“This gives Bush his strange strength, No president this low in the polls should be acting with the confidence he shows. Part of it could be psychological, but part of it has to do with the appreciation that, given the strange dynamics, he is not your normal lame duck. Everyone else is tied in knots in terms of policy and in terms of the election. Bush alone has room to maneuver, and the Iranians are likely calculating that it would probably be safer to deal with this president now rather than expect the unexpected in 2008.”

This argument holds together pretty well. (See, I told you Friedman was smart!) Still, I don’t agree with him. I attribute Bush’s “strange strength” mostly to the factor that Friedman accepted in part, but rejected largely in favor of this elaborate political rationale: “psychological” factors. Bush can’t change and can't perceive the need for change, that’s all. The guy is just dumb and stubborn, poor thing.

Poor us.



Post a Comment

<< Home