Sunday, July 08, 2007

The beginning of the retrospective

Although there is still a year and a half left of Bush's reign, commentators have started discussing the historical significance of the Bush administration. Never mind that he's the worst, most corrupt, president in history, we've survived incompetence and corruption before.

No, the key here is the absolute war on our constitutional system of government that Bush has carried out, and this week's events have once again demonstrated how these attacks have worked. We have already seen Bush's use of "signing statements" as a means of undermining or sidestepping the Congress. He has made it clear that nothing that the legislative branch can do can limit his executive power.

Now, his statement this week on the Scooter Libby free pass demonstrates that he has the same attitude toward the judiciary. Here's what he said: “I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.”

Again: "I have concluded".

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of American government knows that the trial and sentencing of those charged with crimes is a power of the judicial branch, and there are good reasons for that. Reasons like protecting the innocent from over zealous or politically motivated prosecutions, and like sheltering the criminal justice system from favoritism and undue influence.

In other words, it isn't up to the president to determine the justice of a sentence, it is up to the courts. If there were an argument that the sentence was unjust and excessive, Mr. Libby would be free to make that argument as part of his appeal.

In this case, though, by commuting the sentence, specifically based on his own determination of what is a fitting punishment, Bush has announced to the world that his executive power knows no bounds, and that, as in the case of signing statements, he will rule as he will, by fiat, unbounded by the rule of law.

I don't ask whether the United States can survive this corrupt autocrat. I do ask whether our democracy can.

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