Craven Image: The Senate Bows to Imperial Power

*This is an expanded version of the column appearing in the July 21 edition of The Moscow Times.*

Well, that didn't take long. Two weeks ago we wrote here that the "lockstep, lickspittle"  U.S. Congress would scurry to give their approval to the dictatorial powers asserted by President George W. Bush after the Supreme Court struck down those claims in the Hamdan case earlier this month. And lo and behold, last week Republican Senator Arlen Specter introduced a bill that would not only confirm Bush's unrestrained, unconstitutional one-man rule – it would augment it, exalting the Dear Leader to even greater authoritarian heights.

A more slavish piece of work – an
d a more abject surrender of Congressional authority – can scarcely be imagined. And the implications are profound. Besides providing what amount to ex post facto cover for Bush's clearly criminal domestic surveillance programs, the measure is a stinging confirmation that there is no crime the Bushists can commit that the craven rubberstamps in Congress will not countenance. Aggressive war, torture, rendition, indefinite detention, "extrajudicial killing" (i.e., murder), monumental corruption, spying on citizens, megalomaniacal assertions of tyrannical power – it's all good for the corporate bagmen, gormless goobers and extremist cranks now polluting the chambers on Capitol Hill.

But the reverberations go even further. Specter's bill also represents a message from the American Establishment, giving its imprimatur to the codification of presidential dictatorship as the new form of government in the United States, replacing the constitutional republic established in 1789. The bill explicitly embraces the core of Bush's claim to authoritarian rule: that the president cannot be restrained by any law or court ruling in his arbitrary actions on any "matters pertaining" to national security – and of course it is the president who will decide, in secret, what pertains to national security and what does not.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, Specter's obsequious offering "bolsters the President's theories of unlimited executive power beyond Dick Cheney's wildest dreams." And Deadeye Dick has been dreaming of Oval Office tyranny since his days as an errand boy in the pay of Beltway crime boss Richard Nixon. As you recall, Nixon went down for a technicality – covering up a two-bit break-in –rather than for, say, murdering hundreds of thousands of people in the illegal bombing of Cambodia. Yet even that narrow avenue of redress has been closed off now. Obviously, Bush, like Nixon, was never going to be brought to justice for a war crime in which the entire Establishment was deeply complicit; but under the new dispensation, a renegade leader can no longer be removed even for a "lesser" infraction – like eviscerating the liberty of American citizens – because the president has been placed beyond the law. Whatever the Leader does is lawful and right, no matter what the legal statutes say.

You think this is an exaggeration? Not a whit. Bush's own top legal minions have asserted this royal prerogative in sworn testimony before Congress – after the Supreme Court decision in Hamdan. Last week, Deputy Attorney General Steve Bradbury told the Senate Judiciary Committee – chaired by none other than our old friend "Spineless" Specter – that "the president is always right" in his interpretation of judicial rulings. Even when, as in the case under discussion, Bush was publicly lying by stating that the Court's decision had approved the establishment of his concentration camp in Guantanamo, when of course the justices had not even addressed that issue. But who cares? After all, the "president is always right" – even when he lies, even when he breaks the law, even when he orders torture, even when he rapes a nation in an unprovoked war.

Specter obviously took the Bradbury's hint and jumped to do the Regime's bidding. But you would expect that from a man who's been toting Establishment lumber since his days as assistant counsel to the Warren Commission. It was Specter who devised the ludicrous "magic bullet" theory, clai
ming that a single shot from the enchanted rifle of Lee Harvey Oswald cut a merry, zig-zagging caper in several conflicting directions as it plowed through the body of John F. Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally. The Commission's closing of every avenue of investigation that led away from its pre-ordained conclusion – the usual lone nut, bad apple, etc. – has poisoned American political life for generations, sealing one of the nation's greatest traumas in impenetrable murk, breeding suspicion, mistrust, fear and anger. (Not unlike the Bush-appointed 9/11 Commission, in fact.)

Specter later popped up as one of the chief inquisitors of Anita Hill, whose forthright testimony of her sexual harrassment at the hands (or rather, the hubba-hubba voice) of Clarence Thomas threatened to sink of the many sinister pranks the Bush Family have played on the American people –in this case, elevating a clearly unqualified, emotionally unstable, hard-right crank to the Supreme Court. Employing  the traditional Bushist tactic of muddying the waters with smear and innuendo aimed at anyone who stands athwart the Family's ruthless agenda, Specter helped plant doubts about Hill's credibility in enough senators to ensure a razor-thin majority for Thomas' confirmation. Thus Specter was instrumental in placing a loyal factotum – and reliable supporter of authoritarianism – on the nation's highest court, for decades to come. Thomas later repaid the favor with a decisive vote in the judicial coup d'etat known as Bush v. Gore – despite the fact that Thomas' wife was working with the Bush camp, vetting potential courtiers for the coming imperium. It's hard to conceive of a  more blatant conflict of interest, short of Thomas himself pocketing Bush cash under the transom. (A possibility not to be lightly dismissed, of course, given the pervasive criminality of Bush Family and its retainers.)

Now this good and faithful servant has once again delivered the goods for the high and mighty – with the help, as always, of the mainstream media. All the initial stories portrayed Specter's bill as a "grand compromise," a "retreat  by Bush" to sensible, moderate, middle ground – despite the fact that, as Greenwald notes, the measure "expressly removes all limits on the President's eavesdropping powers" and gives the White House carte blanche to sidestep the bill's few toothless oversight procedures any time it wishes. By reporting the precise opposite of what the bill actually does, the pliant press has established a comforting storyline in the public mind: "The system of checks and balances still works, everything's fine, nothing to see here, move along folks." Now any opposition that might arise to this egregious power-grab can be dismissed as "partisan quibbling" or "shrill Bush-bashing." After all, who would object to a "grand compromise" of "sensible moderation" – except some traitor or jihadi-lover?

Of course, n
one of this repressive machinery would be necessary – if your actual intention was to track terrorists and uncover potential threats. Presidents in need of domestic surveillance have long had access to the secret FISA court that greenlights eavesdropping whenever there is even the remotest hint of possible danger. Since 1978, the court has approved more than 18,700 such requests and rejected only four. It even has an emergency provision that allows presidents to start wiretapping without prior approval. But these vast powers aren't enough for Bush; in fact, he apparently began circumventing the court with warrantless phone record spying seven months before the 9/11 attacks. (One measure in Specter's bill will allow Bush to quash the lawsuit from which this revelation emerged.) Whatever he is really doing with his warrantless spy programs – whatever he's trying desperately to keep hidden from independent oversight – it has little or nothing to do with "fighting terrorism."

Naturally, Specter's kowtowing concoction is larded with pious claptrap about "protecting civil liberties." But it's all just the proverbial lipstick on a pig, a cynical attempt to gussy up the ugly reality of raw, blunt, brutal power that has cowed – if not quelled – the once-proud spirit of American freedom.