With the elections last November, we were all treated to endless blatherings about how the new, Democratically-controlled congress would be would be cleaner, more honest, more responsible, more responsive to the American people, and far, far more ethical. So, what have the Democrats done now that they’ve retaken the majority?
Well, let’s just look at two of the women who were committed to cleaning up the House (and Senate).
First up, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) gave up her long-standing position on the Military Construction Appropriations Committee, after it came out that she had funneled literally hundreds of billions of dollars to her husband’s company. (There was no word on whether Jack Abramoff was involved, and Representative William Jefferson
Clinton was overheard to say “DAMN, she makes me look like an amateur!”)
Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that she would be leading a Congressional delegation to Syria, where they will be meeting with “dorktator” Bashar Assad. Apparently Ms. Pelosi is a bit too busy trying to act as a “shadow president” to read the Constitution, which clearly dictates that the governance of our nation’s foreign relations is primarily the bailiwick of the executive branch, with the legislative given a secondary, “advise and consent” role.
This, combined with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s recent statements that he had been meeting with foreign governments and “trying to build relationships with other governments in preparation for a Democratic takeover… there is an opposition in America and that we are ready to take power and that when we do, we are going to have much better relationships with them.”
There was a time when “politics stopped at the water’s edge,” and Americans kept their disagreements at home. Now, partly because of the explosion in the communications field and partly because of the incredibly polarizing nature of politics these days, we have high-ranking officials of one political party (both those holding public office and those not) working towards setting up a second government alongside the legal first one, circumventing such inconvenient niceties as elections, laws, traditions, or even common decency.
This is not unheard of in democracies. England actually has formalized the process, with the party out of power setting up its own “shadow government” of officials ready to step up and take the reins of power. But it works there, largely, because in England they have no fixed election cycle. The governing party can change almost literally at the drop of a hat.
Here in the United States, it works differently. Pending highly unusual circumstances, George W. Bush will remain president until January 2009, and Congress will remain Democratic until that date. There is no chance that an election will be called before then that might upset that balance.
What Pelosi and Dean, among others, are doing is at the minimum a violation of the Logan Act (which forbids private citizens from engaging in formal negotiations with foreign governments without government authorization) and, at worst, high treason. They are undermining the current government’s ability to negotiate in good faith today, by promising these other nations that if they just hold out until 2009, they’ll get a much better deal from the Democrats.
There was a huge stink about an alleged “October Surprise” from 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s campaign was accused of interfering with the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Critics said that Reagan had pledged concesions to Iran if he was elected president — if they did not release the hostages before the election, which would have given President Carter a huge boost in the polls. Nothing conclusive was ever proven, several thorough investigations came to the conclusion that the story was bogus, and I personally think it was a load of crap.
Here’s where the Dan Rather-inspired “fake but accurate” meme comes in handy. The allegations against the Reagan campaign were most likely bogus, but they demonstrate just how important a principle is being violated here. Pelosi and her travelling buddies are meeting with Bashar Assad of Syria, one of the biggest backers of terrorism in the world (I think Iran edges them out), and I would be tremendously surprised if the topic of how a Democratic government would deal with Syria never came up.
It should be noted that Syria is on the State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism, has dominated Lebanon for decades, is implicated in several high-level assassinations, has been a sponsor of Hezbollah and Hamas, and has been supplying terrorists in Iraq with weapons.
So, just what the hell is Pelosi doing? I have my theory.
One of the weaker points of the Democrats has always been seen as their stance on foreign policy. Jimmy Carter’s legacy in that field left a deep mark, when lofty principles led to “the perfect being the enemy of the good” and long-standing allies of the United States who weren’t the best of people were cast aside, while glib promises and gentle words from the most brutal and vicious dictators were taken as gospel. In fact, much of our problems today can be directly linked to the actions of Jimmy Carter — although, to be fair, he didn’t cause them, but certainly exacerbated the hell out of them.
So what Pelosi, Dean, et al are doing is simply trying to bolster their foreign policy credentials by publicly meeting with foreign states, discussing weighty matters, and in general looking like they deserve to be trusted with the reins of power.
While this might help their efforts back home, what they don’t see — or don’t care about — is the incalculable damage they are doing to not just this administration, but our very system of government. It is an assault on the Constitution itself, on the principle of separation of powers, of three separate but equal branches. They are attempting to insert the Congress and the Democratic Party into what has been, for centuries and by Constitutional edict, the province of the Chief Executive.
They are showing just how incredibly myopic they are. Sure, irritating the Bush administration scores points with some voters, and it is a good political tactic — irritated people tend to make mistakes, mistakes that can be capitalized upon. But the damage they inflict will not simply go away on January 20, 2009. The precedent will have been set that Congress can bypass the President and make its own foreign policy, conduct its own talks with foreign nations, and leave the Chief Executive unable to exercise his Constitutional duties. Somehow the thought that these very same rules might apply to a Democratic president and a Republican congress — even though just such a state existed less than a decade ago.
One of the reasons that the United States has not only survived, but prospered as a nation is that while politicians come and go, and parties rise and fall, the fundamental precepts remain solid. We have a democratic republic. We live by the Constitution, amending it when necessary. We have three branches of government, co-equal, with separate powers and areas of responsibility, but with the ability to check the actions of the others.
The Democrats want to hold political power. That’s no big deal. So do the Republicans. It’s the nature of political parties. (With some exceptions. I’ve always thought of the Libertarians’ goal was to hold political power with the intent of NOT using it, but simply to keep it out of others’ hands, and I like that notion.) But there are acceptable ways to achieve that, and the traditional way has been through elections and other legal processes.
But here, the Democratic leadership — damn them — are committing a flagrant, naked, unconstitutional power grab. And the Bush administration and other Republican officials — damn them — are simply letting it happen with token protests.
The main fear seems to be of a Consitutional crisis. There is a tremendous fear of triggering one, where all three branches will find themselves fighting it out over just which branch can do which things, and the losers get publicly humiliated, stripped of some of their power, and — quite probably — earn the scorn and dismay and distrust of the American people.
But such things are sometimes necessary. They tend to have a cleansing effect, as well as clarifying the fundamental principles of our nation and our system of governance.
I think that we need just such a thing, to put into place just what the balance of power between the Executive and the Legislative branches should be in matters such as war and other elements of foreign relations. I think we desperately need it, and need it now.
But I don’t think it’s going to happen. It, like so many other problems, will be pushed back and allowed to continue to grow and fester until it simply can’t be avoided any longer.
If President Bush is truly starting to get concerned about his legacy, he could do worse than to push for a true resolution into just how Congress and the President divide up the powers involved with foreign policy (including war). But I don’t see that happening, either.