Democracy in the Balance
[the Bush imperial presidency]
Friends Committee on National
Washington Newsletter, June 2006
"The accumulation of all powers,
legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether
of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed,
or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
James Madison, Federalist Papers, # 47,
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the administration
has moved to consolidate and amplify the power of the executive
branch, intruding on and absorbing both congressional and judicial
prerogatives. Though not all of these actions relate to the "war
on terror," the administration consistently promotes and
protects this presidential agenda with the rhetoric of fear.
"I vowed to the American people that
we would do everything within the law to protect them against
another terrorist attack," President Bush said on May 11.
He was defending the National Security Agency (NSA) spying program
that has accumulated a massive database of the calling records
of 200 million ordinary U.S. residents from the nation's largest
In the last five years, the president
*Issued some 750 "signing statements"
stating that his administration will not implement or comply with
laws that Congress has passed and he has signed, including a ban
on torture of persons in U.S. custody;
*Asserted, through his attorney general,
that he may authorize warrantless wire taps of persons within
the U.S., including attorney-client communications;
*Classified some 15 million documents
as secret and removed more than 25,000 others from public view,
creating a new non-public category of "sensitive but not
*Authorized the accumulation of a vast
database of calling records of persons in the U.S. who are not
suspected of any terrorist or illegal activity;
*Established a new kind of military tribunal
to hear the cases of "enemy combatants" being held without
charges or due process;
*Set up secret prisons outside the U.S.
which he asserts are not subject to U.S. or international law;
*Refused to provide correct information
to the Congress on subjects as far removed from terrorism as Medicare
and energy policy.
Where these expanding powers have been
challenged-and not all of them have been-the president asserts
his authority on two legal bases:
*Congress' passage of the "Authorization
for the Use of Military Force" seven days after the attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and
*Article IT of the Constitution which
states that the president "shall be commander in chief"
of the armed forces.
Liberty and security are presented as
incompatible alternatives. We are told that people in the U.S.
must give up some of one to secure more of the other. While he
promotes and tests this equation, the president is weakening our
democratic system and creating a commanding presidency.