Column No. 121 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - September 14, 2006
George Bush is the worst President the United States has ever had. Notice that I did not use the word “arguably.” He is simply is. For one reason. He is the first President ever to have as his primary goal the destruction of the Constitutional, Democratic, system under which he took power (notice that I did not say “elected”). This is for him the absolutely primary goal. For the nation as a whole it would obviously be an unmitigated disaster. It stands above even those of: further entrenching the power of the extractive industries and further securing their dominance over U.S. economic and environmental policy; reducing the functions of the government other than those of repression at home and military expansion abroad, to the barest minimums; and filling the pockets of his rich supporters at the expense of the public treasury.
There have been, to be sure, other bad Presidents. Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan essentially stood by as the nation slid towards civil war. Andrew Johnson established the basis for what became the South’s long-term victory in that Civil War in every element other than preserving the legal institution of slavery (see my column, “How the South Won the (1st US) Civil War,” Sunday, November 06, 2005, at http://www.planetarymovement.org/ [archive] ).
Some of those bad Presidencies shared major characteristics with that of the Second Bush. Ulysses S. Grant (a predecessor who was drunk in office), Warren G. Harding, and Ronald Reagan presided over Administrations rife with corruption. James Polk and Lyndon Johnson essentially lied our country into foreign wars aimed at, in the first case, gaining large swatches of the territory of another county, and in the second preventing the establishment, through the Democratic process, of a system of government in another country that ours did not approve of. Herbert Hoover was incompetent when it came to dealing with major economic and natural disasters, and had a strong predilection for favoring the rich. Nixon was paranoid; Clinton was personally irresponsible, and so on and so forth. But none of them set out to destroy US Constitutional Democracy and replace it with a Dictatorship (otherwise known as the “Unitary Executive”).
Let me make it clear that we are not talking about substantive, individual governmental policies here. Bush’s differ in no essential ways from those of most of his Republican predecessors since Lincoln except in matters of degree. He is the first Republican President in modern times to have a Republican Congress, and a very pliable as well as unified one at that, at his disposal. Thus he has been able to implement polices that his two immediate Republican predecessors, Reagan and his father, could only dream of doing.
In terms of Bush’s Republican predecessors since the New Deal, one should note that Eisenhower might have trouble getting DLC support for the Democratic Presidential nomination because he was a firm believer in the New Deal, with certain modifications, and Nixon was a bundle of contradictions. Yes, the old McCarthyite liked using government agencies to spy on his political enemies, kept the war on Vietnam going for a totally unnecessary additional four years, and introduced racism to the Republican Party. But he also fully supported the development of our modern system of environmental regulation and protection that the Georgites are determined to dismantle, in the Spring of 1973 introduced a national health plan to the Congress that had much in common with the Clinton Health Plan of 1993, created the “opening to China,” and lead the “Second Détente” with the Soviet Union.
In terms of particular foreign and domestic policies, Bush has simply been following the line laid down by Goldwater, Reagan and his father, as noted above. Except for one significant element, those policies are really nothing new in the Republican playbook. That one element is, of course, the prominence given by this Administration to the Christian Right and their policies in the social realm that it would like to implement. For the top Republican policy-makers, in the current era led by Cheney and Rove, as is well known it is not that they like the Christian Fundamentalist content so much, but that their rock-solid voting base of support for the ultra-corporatist Republican line is to be found in the Christian Right. Otherwise on policy and the differences now versus what Goldwater would have done if he had become President and what Reagan and Bush I did do to some extent, and would have done to a much greater extent except for the Congress, it is just that Bush is getting to implement them.
What is totally different, totally new, is the assault on Constitutional Democracy. I have illustrated this assault, I have been writing about it in this space, from the last three columns on “Let’s Hear it For Strict Constructionism” all the way back to my second TPJ column ever, that appeared on March 4, 2004. That one was “A Firebell in the Night,” my first effort in the discussion of the so-called “Gay Marriage Amendment” (a subject that I revisited this year on April 2 and 9, that is more accurately termed “The Homosexual Discrimination Amendment”).
And so under Bush we have, in brief, his declaration that we “at war” when under the Constitution only the Congress can declare war; the so-called “Signing Statements” under which Bush arrogates to himself the supposed authority to ignore Congressional legislation at will; the claim that he can ignore international law to which the US has ascribed by treaty, when ratified treaties are, under the Constitution, part of it; that he can ignore provisions of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and 14th amendments at his pleasure. And so on and so forth.
In understanding what is going on here, what I have termed a “coup d’etat in slow motion,” it is vital to note that so many major Georgite policy moves are taken not so much on the substance but in an attempt to establish a precedent unchallenged for establishing a dictatorship. Do you think that Bush (well, maybe not Bush, even when he is sober which seems to be less and less frequently these days) and his policy-makers don’t know that the FISA requires warrants, that under it warrants were virtually never denied, and that the national security apparatus would function just fine, thank you very much, should they be complying with the law on wiretapping? Of course they do. It ain’t about warrantless wiretapping, folks. It is about unfettered Presidential power to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, without any interference or even comment from either of the other two branches of the government. The “I will ignore the Fourth Amendment in relation to Guantanamo,” “I will ignore the anti-torture law,” the obvious policy of “if I decide [and after all, I am the Decider] to launch a war on Iran I will just go ahead and do it,” are all first and foremost about establishing the Georgite Dictatorship (oh sorry, “Unitary Executive”), than about the specific policy.
The lessons for the Democrats here? First, to now focus on Constitutional Democracy, its preservation and promotion could very well be the “Big Idea” that they supposedly have been looking for, for the last thirty years. (In fairness, the DLC isn’t looking for this one or any other Big Idea. Their latest tack is to run against Wal-Mart rather than against Bush and the Republicans even though there is nothing the Constitution that says that a corporation, no matter how big it is, can run either for Congress or the Presidency. But I am talking about and to Real Democrats, not Georgite Collaborationists.) Properly formulated (“framed” is the current jargon), a fairly easy job to do beginning with slogans like “The New Patriotism,” organizing around the preservation of Constitutional Democracy as the primary political objective could quickly become a very powerful political weapon. But even more important than that: if we don’t do it and don’t do it soon, we will not see another chance to do it until the task becomes, somewhere way down the Road of History, the Restoration rather than the Preservation, of Constitutional Democracy. And so, the primary reason to take this up as the rallying cry and the battle of the Democratic Party is the salvation of the nation.
Are there other major issues? Of course there are, the War on Iraq being the prime one. Then there are the monstrous tax-giveaways in the form of the rapidly and monstrously increasing national debt, the foreign debt, the criminal energy policy, the unprecedented (and in the light of Grant, Harding, Reagan, et al that’s a pretty strong word) corruption, the evermore sophisticated tools, plans, and campaigns for stealing elections, and so on and so forth. But they all have to be seen and presented, should be seen and presented, can easily be seen and presented in the context of the counter-assault that absolutely must be launched and launched soon against the Georgite assault on US Constitutional Democracy that has been underway since they took office on January 20, 2001. Mark my words, folks. There is not too much time left. The Democratic Party simply must get moving, before it is too late.
As I noted at the end of my last column in this space: “As my good friend Jack Dalton said some time back: ‘ Was it not George W. Bush who stated 5 years ago, “…this would be much easier if this were a dictatorship, as long as I was the dictator?” Was it not George W. Bush who was quoted recently [as] stating, “The Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper?“ ’ (Jack's Straight-Speak 1-2-06, http://jack-dalton.blogspot.com/).”