The world has gone mad today

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Greetings all in Altercationland, Eric Rauchway here to provide your guest content while Eric A. is off the Internets, and this fine Friday morning I find myself wondering, like my virtual colleague Sandy Levinson: Is it a constitutional crisis yet?

Generally, to have a constitutional crisis you've got to have an official sworn to uphold the law refusing to do it -- not just disputing the law, not just not enforcing it, if you follow me, but acknowledging and yet refusing to do it. Like, for example, the Little Rock school desegregation episode: The court says you have to desegregate your school, Governor Faubus says "I won't." Now you have a constitutional crisis: If we let ol' Orval get away with it, then the law is not the law. And the only way to stop Orval getting away with it -- the only way to preserve the law -- is to use force: You must send Airborne troopers to occupy an American city.

Are we there yet? We're getting close. The president has used his constitutional power to defy the law by commuting Scooter Libby's sentence. The vice president has asserted a constitutional power to defy the law, making him the most dangerous man to occupy that office for two centuries. The president has asserted a right to defy congressional subpoenas.

So we have come this far: The president and vice president assert a right to defy the law, and if Congress lets them get away with it, then the law is not the law.

In truth it has long been the administration's policy to assert a right to defy the law, as the presidential signing statements illustrate. And if Congress lets him get away with it, then the law is not the law.

The vice president says frankly that he wants to restore power to the presidency, power he believes Congress took from the White House after Watergate. It's probably because he's fairly unsubtle about accruing arbitrary power in spite of the law that, evidently, 54 percent of the public think he ought to be impeached. And maybe he should. But the real just desserts for the Cheney era, and the only way for Congress to ensure that the law remains the law, is to use the power of the sovereign American people, as vested in their representatives in Congress assembled, to say that Cheney's theory of the independent presidency is wrong: to reduce by law the power of the White House to operate independent of oversight, to assert the right to determine the law irrespective of the executive's signing statement, and to enforce subpoenas -- even at the risk of provoking a constitutional crisis.

Congress can even use force, as Marty Lederman notes: "The Sergeant at Arms is authorized to arrest and detain any person violating Senate rules, including the president of the United States."

Have a good weekend, all.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"There's a million ways to laugh/and everyone's a path."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Cool Down Baby" (Elton Anderson) -- Once again, I have neglected to carve into the living rock of the New Jersey palisades how much I love New Orleans.

In case you missed it, our leading monotheisms have been an unusually boisterous festival of fruitcakes the last few weeks. First there was that poor Hindu chaplain who got invited to open a session of Congress, only to wind up heckled from the galleries after those Bible-banging gombeens at the American Family Association put out an alert on him. (How do you e-mail in crayon, anyway?). Then we had Fr. Richard John Neuhaus -- who would be the American Rasputin if he were more fun at parties -- waxing solemnly that maybe Mormonism isn't a "true" religion. Low bridge there, Mitt. And, of course, there was Himself in the robes, the former Josef Ratzinger, opining from under his tiara that not only did he have some doubts about the solidity of any Christian church beyond the one he putatively leads, but also reaching out to the followers of the late excommunicate Bishop Lefebvre in France, not only by bringing back the Latin mass, but by letting it be known that he's willing to reach a rapprochement with a sect so lunatic in its beliefs -- Lefebvre believed that the Second Vatican Council was a plot by the Freemasons -- that even a theological reactionary like the late John Paul II couldn't stomach it and gave Lefebvre the boot. I'm going to enjoy hearing the Neuhaus wing of the church of my birth -- which, invariably, gets around to arguing that no liberalization of positions on, for example, the ordination of women is possible because it would break faith with previous popes and with the "magisterium" of the church's teachings -- explain this little bit of nutballery away.

Two points, though. Point The First: many of the folks on my side of the political aisle are impatient with religion (Yay!) and with religious people (Yay, conditionally). It does not obviate the need to understand why things like the above events happen. (The refusal of progressives to understand the rise of unchurched evangelicals in the late 1970s is part of the reason why their politicians beat us like drums throughout the succeeding 20 years.) If reactionary Roman Catholicism truly organizes itself, it is going to be a formidable business.

Point The Second: When you get people talking about "true" religions, that's when we should all go back and read our James Madison very carefully. This is what he warned us against. This is what he saw happening if religion is mixed with the secular government. This is why you're wrong, Begala and Carville. There simply are not enough votes to be had among these people to make abandoning a secular position on, say, abortion worth wading into this slime. The people you're trying to appeal to already believe what you believe because their politics and their faith are separate. The other people think you're heathens and, no matter how much incense you swing their way, they always will.

Name: Ed Einstein
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

When my northern friends often mock "y'all!" in response to my Texas parlance, I remind them that it is simply the Vosotros form in English. And it accomplishes it more elegantly than "youse guys."

Name: Joe Kishman
Hometown: Philadelphia

Re: letter writer Maureen Holland's pleasant surprise at your proper use of the term "y'all" -- New Yorkers and many other Northeasterners have also long recognized the deficiency in our language which makes "y'all" necessary, or at least quite useful. In these parts, the words "youse" or "yins" serve the same purpose. I'll hand it to our southern neighbors, though -- "y'all" sounds much nicer.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric,

Rudy Guiliani has added Robert Kasten to his staff, making yet another convicted criminal on board to help him seek the highest office in the land.

Kasten got drunken-driving tickets until Wisconsin voters had enough and dislodged him from the US Senate.

I got this from tompaine.com, and the same article indicated that Norman's Pod Hurts is on board as well. What a crew!

Name: Jennifer
Hometown: Greenwood MO

"Watching serious drama on 'regular' TV is almost impossible due to the incessant commercial breaks. We've been spoiled by HBO. (How I wish HBO had bankrolled The Bronx is Burning.) I'll wait until the series hits the DVD market."

Haven't you heard of the DVR by now? I record EVERYTHING I watch, just so I can FF through the commercials. In fact, most shows I start watching about 10 minutes after the hour just so I can FF. I think this is the greatest invention of my generation (I'm 45 years old!)

Name: Jerry K
Hometown: Grand Forks, ND

Actually, the best answer to the misuse of Sen. Carl Schurz's quote is to finish it:

"My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be put right."

We desperately need some putting right these days.

For more on the quote, here.

Name: Rick Kane
Hometown: Locust Grove, Virginia

John, as one lawyer to another, lighten up a little. LTC Bob was making a joke. (Although, our English Professor host might point out, Shakespeare's famous line "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" spoken by a low, dim-witted villain, Dick the Butcher, in Henry the VI Part I. But I am sure the audience at the Globe cheered the line.

Name: Matthew Saroff
Hometown: http://fourtyyears.blogspot.com

Far from being an assault on the legal profession, Shakespeare's lines are a paean to the virtues of lawyers.

The line is spoken by evil people who wish to create a despotic nation, and they wish to kill lawyers because they protect the rights that people have under the law.

It's a pet peeve of mine.

Name: Reed Richardson
Hometown: Ridgewood

Eric (B.),

Not only was that WSJ article a flimsy bit of spin regurgitation (wrapped in a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham, as Woody Allen might say), its premise was easily challenged. Take, for instance, this article from Wednesday that shows that -- yes -- it's actually possible to objectively measure whether or not the Democrats have been able to both conduct oversight and advance a legislative agenda at the same time. (It's pronounced "COM-puh-tenz," and for those who've understandably forgotten what it looks and sounds like, you can actually find it in the dictionary -- it's right smack dab between "compassionate" and "conservative." )

And while it's true that all those votes by this Congress haven't necessarily translated into more laws, it's also worth pointing out why that is. What's holding up -- or, to use another term that was surprisingly more en vogue last year, "obstructing" -- much of the legislation from being enacted (besides the odd Presidential veto or two) is an increasingly petulant and unpopular Republican minority intent on stamping their little feet and gumming up the works anyway they can, with incessant "poison pill" amendments, cloture motions, parliamentary sandbag tactics, and onerous holds on already passed bills.

But hey, all these facts can't compete with the schoolyard logic of the "too much investigatin', not enough legislatin' " meme. After all, it even rhymes. Then again, maybe Messrs. Perez and McKinnon have read the handwriting on the wall and were just trying to demonstrate how well they would fit in with the WSJ's new overlords?

Name: Ken D'Antuono
Hometown: Woodstock, GA

I think Ernie is missing the bigger picture on Barry Bonds. Had he stopped playing after the 1998 season he would have gone into the Hall of Fame five years later. At that point he was the only player in the history of the game with more than 400 home runs and 400 stolen bases. He had also won three MVP awards, more than Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rod Carew, and Reggie Jackson, among others.

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