Signing Statements More Dangerous Than Guantanamo

When George W. Bush was president, everybody to the left of Karl Rove was offended by his signing-statements in which he announced his intention to violate laws as he signed them into law. Congressman John Conyers held one of his countless and toothless hearings, heard all about it, and went home self-satisfied.

Many of us warned that if the next president did the same thing it would be considered legal, even if blatantly unconstitutional. Then Obama did it. Even Republicans acted vaguely annoyed. Then Obama did worse. The congressional response was almost undetectable.

Congressman Darrell Issa has already made clear in an interview about Sestakgate that he will only investigate abuses that Obama has engaged in but Bush never did. But the thing about signing statements, other than Obama’s new silent method, is that they can’t be investigated; they’re already fully public, just like Bush confessing to torture on television.

And now Obama is threatening a signing statement of some kind over a ban on trying Guantanamo prisoners in actual courts. Without that unconstitutional move, a White House official says it would be impossible “to pretend you are closing Guantanamo.”

And so, to maintain that pretense, progressives are clamoring for Obama to use a signing statement. The problem is not the hypocrisy or the placing of Party above principle. The problem is that a united front from across the political spectrum supporting the signing statements they like and not those they dislike guarantees even greater power in the hands of a series of single individuals who can only with the utmost difficulty be persuaded to give a rat’s ass which imperial decrees you or I approve of.

Progressives and rightwingers are making a tacit and predictable (and predicted) bargain: Our emperors get ever greater power, but so do yours. This is a losing proposal for anyone who cares about peace or justice. Yes, we have very little control over Congress. We have less over presidents. They are to a much greater extent in the pocket of the Plutopentagonocracy.

So what should President Obama do with a bad bill? Well, what does the Constitution, that tattered document he used to TEACH about, have to say? What did everyone tell Bush he needed to do with bills that he opposed?

That’s right: veto the bill. And if that delays the funding for some illegal wars, that’s the price we’ll have to pay.

And what about Guantanamo? The president should end the pretense, release the innocent, and announce that he will try those suspected of crimes or release them if unable to put them on trial.

The notion that we can compel the president, any president, to do such a thing is laughable. The idea of persuading a Congress to legislate the same is, in contrast, perfectly conceivable, and with needed reforms even plausible . . . unless Congress loses the power to legislate.

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