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July 08, 2005

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james larkin

The American Revolution and the People

Over three hundred years ago, American revolutionaries overthrew a dictatorial regime and established a democratic nation, a government “of laws, not men”, and provided Congress the power of impeachment in order to check homegrown tyrants, charging it to act on the people’s behalf by challenging abuse of presidential power. Today, most in Congress have meekly stripped themselves of the power of impeachment without answering the most well-considered arguments for it. Who suffers when Congress kneels before tyrants? The people. The nation.

When the President uses his powers to ignore laws passed by Congress, he may deny us the benefits the laws were meant to provide. When he does this with no accounting of how the people or the nation will benefit by his rejection of the law, but merely claims the right to ignore it as a show of power, that is a clear abuse of power and grounds for impeachment.

There seems no earthly public good in a “signing statement” declaring the president may ignore minimum requirements of experience and education for FEMA directors. And yet, to just such a law, he added a a statement claiming that he may substitute his own unnamed standards in place of the ones in the law. He does not explain what his substitute qualifications are. He does not explain under what circumstances he would apply them instead of the ones in the law. He does not explain how a FEMA director meeting his own personal standards will serve us better in times of disaster than one meeting the legal standards. He merely decrees it.

It would be alarming for any president to thus amend a section of a law clearly intended to enhance our safety. When Hurricane Katrina unleashed her destruction, we discovered too late that the FEMA director, chosen by this president according to his own criteria, was avidly loyal to the president but utterly lacking the experience and skills needed for national emergency management. Who suffered for it? The people. The nation.

That is why the minimum qualifications were introduced in the law – but he decreed his own judgement on standards to be potentially superior to that of Congress and reserved for himself the right to ignore the law. The president is is the only person who can explain his reasoning. He should be called to appear before Congress and account for this assumption of superior judgement as it will affect the safety and lives of the people of the United States. If only impeachment can make him comply, so be it. Perhaps, to our relief, he can adequately explain how his own specified requirements will make for more effective emergency management under what circumstances, how his own criteria of political loyalty will better serve the national interest and benefit the people.

But if his sole reason for the “signing statement” was to protect and defend his own powers by using them randomly, exercising powers in frivolous displays of presidential braggadocio merely to show them off without regard to the public good, it is a grave abuse of his office. There is no law or oath stating the president must place the interests of the presidency above the interests of the people of the United States. That is an abuse of power of the very sort the framers of the Constitution foresaw. That is an impeachable offense.

Legal allies of the president say Congressional acquiesence is a mute but official endorsement of his use of power. Indeed, who among those in Congress who reject impeachment will answer the arguments for impeachment? Who among them will explain how their toothless inactions will discourage future abuse of power more strongly than calling presidents to account for questionable assertion of powers, as the Framers intended? Not a one. Who will suffer for their abnegation of duty? The people. The nation.

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