Monday, March 13, 2006


Not Laughing

I've been reading John Dean's Worse than Watergate: the Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. It's not a laugh a minute, but as Ecclesiastes tells us, there's a time for every purpose under heaven.

Dean, for those of you too young or too far gone to remember, was White House Counsel to Richard Nixon. He was a whistleblower who first warned Nixon that there was a "cancer on the presidency," i.e., the stonewalling that followed the Watergate break-in, and a star witness at the Watergate hearings for what went on in the White House as Nixon's palace guard tried to contain the damage.

Worse than Watergate is a valuable book, since Dean knows both the White House and the law from an insider's perspective. The account is rich in the law that should govern the relationships between the Executive and Legislative branches and the ways in which the Bush-Cheney team has undermined the Constitutionally proscribed balance of power. If left unchecked, this presidency will continue to destroy not only the principles that have kept this country on the track of continuous improvement (occasional burps of fear and meanness aside), but will turn the writing of presidential history into the sort of farce that we associate with totalitarian regimes.

Let's start with history. Bush and his henchman Cheney have moved to remove their actions from the public record. The first move, following Bush's so-called "election" in 2000 was to make his gubanatorial records from Texas inaccessible by hiding them in the archives of his father's presidential library, thus federalizing them and placing them out of the control of the state of Texas, which has strong public information laws. By the time the brave Peggy Rudd of the Texas State Library fought the case to its legal conclusion, Bush's hand-picked successor, Gov. Rick Perry, found new exceptions in the state's information laws that, according to Dean, "give him the keys to the filing cabinets with Bush's records." The records are being processed--slowly.

A few documents were reviewed before Perry restored the stone wall, most notably the cavalier treatment that Bush and counsel Alberto Gonzales reviewed death row commutations on incomplete information with zap speed. Bush's legendary laziness and "decisiveness" combined for the quick dispatch of the condemned. No wonder he's so casual about sending our young men and women off to die in Iraq. This pro-life president's interest in sacred matters ends at birth.

Dean further describes the "shrink-wrapping of the White House." He covers some ground with which most of us are familiar: the image control, the manipulation of the news media, the invocation and inflation of executive privilege. The big, nasty surprise is the sealing of Presidential records. In 2001, while the country united in post-9/11 vulnerability, Bush gutted the 1978 Presidential Records Act with an executive order that includes the following provisions:

Former presidents can keep their papers sealed indefinitely.

Vice presidents have the authority to invoke executive privilege. (!!!)

The burden shifts from the former presidents seeking to withhold their papers to the person seeking presidential papers, to show justification why that person should have access to them.

Any request for access to a former president's papers must be approved by both the former president and the incumbent president, and if the former president objects to the release, the incumbent president --even if he disagrees-- will authorize his Justice Department to protect the former president's objection.

"Representatives of former presidents" may invoke executive privilege after a former president is dead. Although there is no constitutional basis for this, under Bush's order this right can be passed from generation to generation, to friends, to anyone.

Dean's book should be required reading for anyone concerned with making the case for impeachment, or at least embarrassing elected representatives and future candidates into reversing some of the damage that this administration has done. I will be including more nuggets from Dean's exhaustive research in my upcoming postings.

It's better to be crabby and informed than perky and constitutionally undermined.

I appreciate this post. Its a good writeup on the book which I haven't read but now look forward to reading.

Love your last line :P
Reading your nuggets is about as much as I can stand. I fear that reading Dean's book might cause me to suffer spontaneous human combustion.
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