By David Swanson
In the evolving neocon scheme of unconstitutional US governance, the job of running the country may belong to the office of the Vice President, while the primary duty of the president (other than following orders and acting like he’s in charge) may be to pardon the Vice President and all of his henchmen for their crimes.
We have survived (just barely) seven and a half years of life under a government that has eliminated the legislative and judicial branches, installed a certified moron in the oval office, and placed dictatorial power in a new fourth (or first) branch of government located wherever Dick Cheney casts his shadow. The Republican candidate to succeed George W. Bush is a bumbling idiot and senile to boot, clearly incapable of remembering what he had for breakfast, much less running a global empire. (And he lost any right to take pride in his torture victimhood when he began supporting the torture of others.) If he chooses a new Dick Cheney as his running mate, we will know that his role is puppet-in-chief and primary pardoner.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why can’t Congress pardon each vice president and gang by legalizing their crimes, as done in the FISA modernization act or the military commissions act? Well, of course, it can – in the cases of crimes it finds out about. But Congress can’t be counted on to pardon crimes that are successfully kept secret, which however might be discovered while the criminals remain alive. And laws can always be undone by new laws or court rulings, while presidential pardons cannot be.
Alright, fine, but why couldn’t a president just pardon himself? Well, first of all, you don’t want the president to be in charge of the national crime syndicate for a number of reasons. First of all, he has to be chosen through something resembling an open election – a process well suited to selecting a Bush or a McCain, but not a Cheney or Lieberman. The Vice Presidential candidate need not be chosen through any primary elections, and can remain a footnote in the general election. Second, the Vice President’s office holds greater claim to a privilege of secrecy, by virtue of constituting its own separate and unregulated branch of government. Third, while the Constitution does not explicitly ban self-pardoning, no president has yet attempted it, and any sane Constitutional scholar would denounce it as patently outside the law.
Former consigliere generale Alberto Gonzales claimed that the Constitution only says that the right to habeas corpus cannot be taken away (except in certain circumstances) but does not assert that anyone ever has the right to habeas corpus in the first place. By that logic, the Bill of Rights provides no rights at all, and the president is free to do almost anything imaginable, including – yes – crushing children’s testicles or (should it develop any) Congress’s.
At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison and George Mason both argued that impeachment would be the response if a president ever pardoned someone for a crime he himself was involved in (as Bush has effectively done for Scooter Libby). The idea of a president pardoning himself for a crime he had committed was so patently abusive that I am certain Madison and Mason would have declined to include an explicit ban of it had anyone suggested the idea.
Of course it is very likely that Bush will attempt a self-pardon, particularly if Obama claims an election victory, but such a solution cannot be counted on. Hence the desirability of the president being a moron with an established family tradition of claiming to be “out of the loop,” of allowing the Vice President to run the country through secret task forces, of packing the courts with loyalists, of purchasing property in nations that lack extradition treaties, of rendering impotent and servile the International Criminal Court, and of placing in the White House for the next term a new pardoner in chief whose job can include pardoning the previous president. Remember that John McCain (and Barack Obama too, for that matter) has not committed to refusing to pardon Bush.
In fact, McCain (and Obama too, for that matter) has not committed to ceasing to engage in lots of criminal abuses of the Cheney-Bush regime, or even to eliminating the secrecy of the executive branches [sic]. Perhaps more important, though, is the question of what legal and democratic principles, if any, McCain’s and Obama’s respective running-mates will be willing to commit to.