Friday, September 02, 2011

Boosting the Presidency, Again

When hedge fund executive turned CNBC reporter Rick Santelli delivered his famous rant of elitism from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade in 2009, it marked the beginning of the modern tea party movement. Although Republican politicians- most notably presidential candidate George Herbert Walker Bush- had supported altering the United States Constitution for almost anything, Santelli's rant prompted the mistaken idea that the far right of the Republican Party is especially fond of the United States Constitution.

Santelli claimed "I'll tell you what, if you read our Founding Fathers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson..... What we're doing in this country now is making them roll over in their graves." In March, 2010 The New York Times would summarize "the Tea Party movement has already added something distinctive to contemporary political discourse. It has made the Constitution central to the national conversation." The movement gave rise to losers such as Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, but also to winners such as Mike Lee, who, after state conventioneers ditched incumbent Bob Bennett, eventually became the GOP's U.S. Senate nominee and was elected in November 2010..

Lee was representative of the victorious candidates actively supported by the tea party movement. As a candidate, he had supported amending the Constitution to mandate a balanced budget, impose term limits on members of Congress, and overturning the 14th and 17th Amendments (though conceding that the latter wouldn't be scrapped). When the 112th Congress convened in January, 2011, House Republicans, now in charge, began by reading the text of a constitution they found in so many ways lacking.

And now, this. Todd J. Gilman of the Dallas Morning News reports that GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, onetime supporter of secession, wants to end lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices. It would entail a measure so favored by the party of limited government, an amendment to the United States Constitution.

It may not be the worst idea for altering the Constitution. The Repub Party still is hot for a balanced budget amendment (a vote on which was guaranteed by the recent debt limit agreement), which in one of its incarnations former President Reagan domestic policy adviser Bruce Bartlett termed "quite possibly the stupidest constitutional amendment I think I have ever seen."

The real danger to an amendment limiting the terms of judges on the highest court in the land, however, might lie in what it would portend otherwise for a Perry presidency.

Soon after Barack Obama assumed the presidency, then-White House counsel David Craig, addressed what the NYT described as "an executive-privilege dispute over Congressional subpoenas of former White House aides to Mr. Bush over the firing of United States attorneys." "The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened," Craig explained. "But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.".

True to the word of his aide, Obama has, Glenn Greenwald noted in July, "continued Bush/Cheney terrorism policies- once viciously denounced by Democrats- of indefinite detention, renditions, secret prisons by proxy, and sweeping secrecy doctrines." He has expanded that power "by waging an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, seizing the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process far from any battlefield, massively escalating drone attacks in multiple nations, and asserting the authority to unilaterally prosecute a war (in Libya) even in defiance of a Congressional vote against authorizing the war."

Support any or all of those policies- I have not been offended by most of the drone attacks nor the Libyan intervention (though the War Powers Act should have been invoked)- but is undeniably not only an expansion of the national security state but also of the powers of the Executive Branch, absolutely and relative to the other two branches of government. And now, witnessing an enlargement of presidential power neither anticipated, nor envisioned, by the Founders, Rick Perry argues "we should take steps to restrict the unlimited power of the courts to rule over us with no accountability."

The unaccountable Courts! It's as if Rick Perry, eager to be the standard-bearer of the party which ignores also the dominant role of the financial industry in nearly bringing this country to it knees, has not lived through the past twelve years.

It is all to easy to conclude that this is not about reverence for the Constitution, which Rick Perry supports dramatically altering with a balanced budget amendment, but about magnifying the power of an Executive Branch he hopes to lead in seventeen months.

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