Saturday, January 05, 2008

Are Republicans Conservative (Part III)

by Jeffrey Robbins

Part III of III

We hopefully find the reader by this point viewing the "accomplishments" of Republicans in all three branches as more open to debate than when we first started, willing to remain open to a different perspective, and wanting to learn even more. This article, in three parts, is meant only to serve as an appeal to the apologists of the Republican Party for genuine thought, reading, and study, outside of their normal scope. For other readers who see the political landscape for what it is and have already done demonstrable study in the proper areas, these articles hopefully serve to reinforce your considered beliefs.

Pumping Up the Presidency With Signing Statements

Surely the Republicans we elect would at least respect the rule of law put in place by Congress, and not attempt to skirt or rewrite that law at the Executive level. Let's look next at Republicans' history with signing statements. A signing statement is a written proclamation issued by a government's executive branch that accompanies the signing of a law passed by the government's legislature. Historically their main use is for rhetorical or political proclamations. An excellent primer article on signing statements by John W. Dean is here:

Bush's use of signing statements has raised eyebrows among legal and constitutional scholars alike. "There is an ongoing controversy concerning the extensive use of signing statements by President George W. Bush to modify the meaning of laws. In July 2006, a task force of the American Bar Association described the use of signing statements to modify the meaning of duly enacted laws as "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers." ( "Article I, Section 7 (in the Presentment Clause) empowers the president to veto a law in its entirety, or to sign it. Article II, Section 3 requires that the executive "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Here is an excerpt from the Dean article cited above:
"Phillip Cooper is a leading expert on signing statements. His 2002 book, By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action, assesses the uses and abuses of signing statements by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Cooper has updated his material in a recent essay for the Presidential Studies Quarterly, to encompass the use of signing statements by now-President Bush as well.

By Cooper's count, George W. Bush issued 23 signing statements in 2001; 34 statements in 2002, raising 168 constitutional objections; 27 statements in 2003, raising 142 constitutional challenges, and 23 statements in 2004, raising 175 constitutional criticisms. In total, during his first term Bush raised a remarkable 505 constitutional challenges to various provisions of legislation that became law.

That number may be approaching 600 challenges by now. Yet Bush has not vetoed a single bill, notwithstanding all these claims, in his own signing statements, that they are unconstitutional insofar as they relate to him.

Rather than veto laws passed by Congress, Bush is using his signing statements to effectively nullify them as they relate to the executive branch. These statements, for him, function as directives to executive branch departments and agencies as to how they are to implement the relevant law.

Bush has quietly been using these statements to bolster presidential powers. It is a calculated, systematic scheme that has gone largely unnoticed (even though these statements are published in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents) until recently, when President Bush's used a signing statement to attempt to nullify the recent, controversial McCain amendment regarding torture, which drew some media attention.

Generally, Bush's signing statements tend to be brief and very broad, and they seldom cite the authority on which the president is relying for his reading of the law. None has yet been tested in court. But they do appear to be bulking up the powers of the presidency. Here are a few examples:

Suppose a new law requires the President to act in a certain manner - for instance, to report to Congress on how he is dealing with terrorism. Bush's signing statement will flat out reject the law, and state that he will construe the law "in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, the national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties."

The upshot? It is as if no law had been passed on the matter at all.

Or suppose a new law suggests even the slightest intrusion into the President's undefined "prerogative powers" under Article II of the Constitution, relating to national security, intelligence gathering, or law enforcement. Bush's signing statement will claim that notwithstanding the clear intent of Congress, which has used mandatory language, the provision will be considered as "advisory."

The upshot? It is as if Congress had acted as a mere advisor, with no more formal power than, say, Karl Rove - not as a coordinate and coequal branch of government, which in fact it is.

As Phillip Cooper observes, the President's signing statements are, in some instances, effectively rewriting the laws by reinterpreting how the law will be implemented. Notably, Cooper finds some of Bush's signing statements - and he has the benefit of judging them against his extensive knowledge of other President's signing statements -- "excessive, unhelpful, and needlessly confrontational.""

More on Signing Statements

Edward Lazarus explores further in this article the use of singing statements in "interpreting away constraints on Executive Power."

Jennifer Van Bergen addressed signing statements in the broader context of the Bush's Administration's embrace of the so-called "unitary executive" concept, the claim that a president totally controls the executive branch and has standing equal to the courts in interpreting the constitution as it relates to his branch.

I ask the reader to tell me now, what protection on freedom and the rule of law and personal rights have been protected by electing Republicans from the Establishment?


How does it happen then that the Republican Party finds itself morphed into a Leftist organization? How does a Party that once would have cautioned, as the Founders did, about fighting wars in foreign countries now advocate democratic change in other sovereign nations with hundreds of bases in foreign lands? The Department of Defense Fiscal 2007 Real Property Inventory lists 108,356 buildings on 823 foreign base sites in 39 foreign countries (see Dare we do this down the barrel of a gun? At what point, if we are willing to commit atrocities abroad on citizens of other sovereign countries, have we lost the moral compass? What if China wanted regime change here and marched down our streets? Are the warnings of the Old Right, that militarism leads to loss of freedom and increasing big government bureaucracy at home accurate? Is $1 trillion and counting in Iraq worth it? How about estimates, albeit the worst ones, that 600,000-1.2 million Iraqi civilians have suffered the ultimate liberation - death? How about the well over 3,000 brave U.S. service men and women dead in the War? What of the 100,000 or more Serbs dead at the hands of the Bosnian Muslims that we ironically supported under George H.W. Bush and William Clinton? What of supporting Iraq vs. Iran in the 1980-1988 only to fight them just three years later and again now? I am sure you can recall on your own countless other foreign policy gaffes in the past 60+ years. Note too the general continuance of foreign policy from Democratic administration to Republican administration. Which Democratic frontrunner is advocating a full pullback from Iraq? What year was the Korean War? How many troops do we have inside that sovereign nation today?

Perhaps there is something to what much has been written about: Neoconservatives, who began appearing on the scene in the 1950's are intellectual heirs to Leon Trotsky - the Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist. Many have compared the neoconservatives and liberals willingness to go abroad and expand the military complex to Trotsky's belief in permanent revolution abroad and socialism at home (some modicum of economic growth is necessary to continue funding their worldview and therefore outright and total communism was not necessarily desired by Trotsky).

Irving Kristol, the "god-father" and one of the founders of neoconservatism, stated five basic policies of neoconservatism that distinguish it from other "movements" or "persuasions". These policies, he claimed, "result in popular Republican presidencies":

Taxes and Federal Budget: "Cutting tax rates in order to stimulate steady economic growth. This policy was not invented by neocons, and it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them, but rather the steady focus on economic growth." In Kristol's view, neocons are and should be less concerned about balancing fiscal budgets than traditional conservatives: "One sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth."
Size of Government: Kristol distinguishes between Neoconservatives and the call of traditional conservatives for smaller government. "Neocons do not feel ... alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable."
Traditional Moral Values: "The steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity, does unite neocons with traditional conservatives". Here Kristol distinguishes between traditional conservatives and libertarian conservatives. He cites the shared interest of Neocons and Religious Conservatives in using the government to enforce morality: "Since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power."
Expansionist Foreign Policy: "Statesmen should ... distinguish friends from enemies." And according to Kristol, "with power come responsibilities ... if you have the kind of power we now have, either you will find opportunities to use it, or the world will discover them for you."
National Interest: "the United States of today, inevitably ... [will] feel obliged to defend ... a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces ...that is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II ... that is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today."

If you read those five carefully, it should sound familiar. We are living it. Indeed, a careful study of the Old Right versus what has been sold as Conservatism over the past few decades will show you there was a hijacking and no one told you. Or we didn't listen. Or we didn't bother reading to find out. This article has been just the tip of the iceberg. I hope you don't stop here.

Next Steps?

If this article struck any chord whatsoever, what can you do?

Continue to educate yourself. A great place to start is The New American magazine. They have a great online archive, search tool, and topic index.

Check to see how your Senators and Representatives actually vote. You are likely to be surprised how few Congressmen and Congresswomen actually uphold the oaths they took, ignoring (or ignorant?) of the Constitution, voting you into citizenship within a Socialist state at best, in spite of their campaign rhetoric. Learn to separate their rhetoric from their actual voting record. For a comprehensive 10-page review of the 109th Congress, please visit:

For a look at the current 110th Congress please visit:

These Indexes of Congressional votes are complete with a brief summary of the bill. A "+" after your Congressman's name was a vote which is consistent with a strict Constitutionalist view. A "-" is a vote recorded as inconsistent with the Constitution. Please keep in mind that attention to your Congressmen is more important in many ways due to their legislative means.

When you vote for someone at the local, state, or federal level and with your new knowledge, you begin to realize they are consistently voting for unconstitutional items, hold their feet to the fire. Contact their office by phone, email, or mail. If your Representatives or Senators make trips back to your home state for "town hall meetings" or such, go, and ask the hard questions. Why continue to allow them to pose as conservatives when we all know better?

As you continually discover, you may well want to increase and expand your learning to books to learn such things as how the United Nations came to be, what happened to Old Right Conservatism, the history of the EU and what is the NAU (the "North American Union," in store for the U.S. based on the European Union concept), and gain a truer understanding of liberty and why you have seen it consistently withered by both Parties despite your votes for "small-government" Republicans. These are just a few of many examples. You may also consider getting together like-minded true conservatives and run for office.

We must only support people who are committed to defending and preserving constitutional government. A socialist Republican is no better than a socialist Democrat. Why believe that electing big-government Republicans is a genuine alternative to electing big-government Democrats?

(If you think a friend, whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent, would enjoy reading this, please send them the address for the blog or use the tool below (envelope with arrow) to send this article to a friend.) Knowledge grows when shared.

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