Only two-party government
Posted on Wednesday, November 1, 2006
So vast and comprehensive are the failures of the Bush White House, it’s admittedly hard to look away. Watching the president campaign in Indiana recently evoked the kind of dread fascination that makes people stare at highway accidents. Has Bushism degenerated into a cult? It’s definitely starting to look like one. “When it came time [to vote] on whether to allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue to detain and question terrorists,” Bush claimed, “almost 80 percent of the House Democrats voted against it.” “Just say no,” chanted the infatuated crowd on cue. No such vote was ever taken. Has this president no honor? Not a particle. Nobody’s against capturing and questioning terrorists. Absolutely nobody. Many Americans do oppose torture because it’s barbaric, useless and spawns everlasting hatred. So naturally, Bush thinks it makes him look “tough.”
No person who supports abolishing habeas corpus, the cornerstone of individual liberty since 1215 AD, can call himself a “conservative” in the American sense. Life imprisonment by presidential fiat? Even Argentina and the USSR gave that up. Iran has judicial appeals. Without the right to challenge arbitrary imprisonment—the law refers to “any person” Bush deems an enemy, not “terrorists” —you have no rights at all.
Alas, Bush himself isn’t on the ballot; in two long years, we’ll be done with him forever. Rather, it’s the GOP Congress that’s up for election, and that’s much trickier. Although the Founding Fathers deliberately tried to design a government whose separation of powers would prevent any one man or faction from gaining excessive power, they never anticipated today’s Republicans.
The “Republican Congress has done nothing to thwart President George W. Bush’s alarming usurpations of legislative prerogatives,” writes Bruce Fein, associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan. “Instead, it has largely functioned as an echo chamber of the White House.”
Fein is one of several conservatives who contributed essays to Washington Monthly about why it’s crucial that Democrats retake at least one house of Congress in 2006. Among them are such GOP thinkers as Bruce Bartlett, Christopher Buckley, Richard Viguerie, and former Rep. Joe Scarborough.
Bush’s outrages against the Bill of Rights motivate Fein: “Republicans,”
he writes “have shied from challenging Bush by placing party loyalty above institutional loyalty, contrary to the expectations of the Founding Fathers.... For the foreseeable future, divided government is the best bet for preserving both the letter and spirit of the Constitution.”
For the acerbic Scarborough, the issues are rampant corruption, runaway spending and spiraling debt. “After six years of Republican recklessness at home and abroad, I seriously doubt Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or... [a Congress of] Bourbon Street hookers could spend this country any deeper into debt than my Republican Party.”
Jeffrey Hart, senior editor of National Review, sees Bushism as anything but conservative. Bush, he writes, “has taken the positions of an unshakable ideologue: on supply-side economics, on privatization, on Social Security, on the Terri Schiavo case, and, most disastrously, on Iraq. Never before has a United States president consistently adhered to beliefs so disconnected from actuality....
“Successful government by either Democrats or Republicans has always been, above all, realistic. FDR, Eisenhower, and Reagan were all reelected by landslides and rank as great presidents who responded to the world as it is, not the world as they would have it. But ideological government deserves rejection, whatever its party affiliation. This November, the Republicans stand to face a tsunami of rejection. They’ve earned it.”
Agreed, but will they get it? One-party Republican government has been a complete disaster. People giving Congress 16 percent approval ratings don’t know the half of it. Under House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s “majority of the majority” policy, neither bipartisan consultation nor congressional oversight really exist. The result has been epic bribery and unparalleled clowning. Pork-laden, trillion-dollar budget bills get shoved through with little or no debate, while Congress spends a week-and-a-half bloviating about Terry Schiavo.
Under President Clinton, Republicans spent more than $150 million on investigations and independent counsels and issued over 1,000 subpoenas to probe often-imaginary malfeasance. They investigated his Christmas card list, for heaven’s sake. Under Bush, New Orleans, a major American city supposedly protected by federal levees, was drowned. Literally billions of taxpayer dollars have vanished in Iraq. Not misspent, vanished. Disappeared. Unaccounted for. Nonexistent WMDs? No problem. Abu Ghraib? Not interested. Number of congressional subpoenas issued since 2001? Zero. Not one. Instead, as Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone, thanks to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Congress has embarked on a never-ending party, a wild daisy-chain of golf junkets, skybox tickets and casino trips.” Unfortunately, Americans have been historically resistant to tactical voting, i.e., turning out their own congressman to deny his party. That reluctance combined with gerrymandered districts rigged to provide “safe seats” to career politicians of both parties, makes rescuing American democracy a far tougher proposition than it should be.