Democracy in the Balance

[the Bush imperial presidency]

Friends Committee on National Legislation

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, 1788


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 telephone companies.


In the last five years, the president has:

*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 classified;"

*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; and

*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.

Democracy in America

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