Saturday, October 27, 2007
Extraordinary Powers of the Unitary Executive
The Path to Power
October 26, 2007
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.
For our friends in California, we begin with condolences for the miseries of fire, fear, and evacuations. And to those of you living in the Southeast, where suddenly people are talking about an epic shortage of water, we'll be watching and hoping you show the rest of us how to meet one of the century's looming challenges. Where I grew up in Texas farmers would look up at the scorching skies and say: "You never miss the water until the well runs dry."
Now on to our report this week. Some of you will remember that back in July the conservative scholar Bruce Fein was here on the JOURNAL expressing outrage over expansion of presidential powers under Bush and Cheney.
BRUCE FEIN: Take for instance the assertion that he's made that when he's out to collect foreign intelligence, no other branch can tell him what to do. That means he can intercept your emails, your phone calls, open your regular mail, he can break and enter your home, he can even kidnap you, claiming I'm seeking foreign intelligence there is no other branch - Congress can't make it illegal, judges can't say this is illegal. I can do anything I want.
BILL MOYERS: Many others have joined Bruce Fein's chorus of concern. This week it's the muckraking populist Jim Hightower. Writing in his newsletter the Hightower Lowdown, shown here on the Web site Alternet, he asks the question: "Is a presidential coup under way?"
He goes on to say, "The Constitution is being trampled, the very form of our government is being perverted, and nothing less than American democracy itself is endangered."
We've posted Jim Hightower's Lowdown on our web page at pbs.org so that you can read the whole of his argument about it.
But here's some background as to why so many people of different political stripes are alarmed. President Bush and Vice President Cheney espouse the theory of the unitary executive. That means the President's orders can't be reviewed, questioned, or altered by the other two branches of government. He alone can say what the law means, or whether or not it will be enforced or ignored. In effect, George W. Bush says his powers must be unilateral and unchecked.
Critics claim the President has used the war on terror to put himself above the law and that he has created a secret presidency of classified decisions and orders, that approve extraordinary renditions, torture, illegal detentions, and wiretapping without warrants with the collaboration of big telecom companies. This boundless secrecy and surveillance evokes images counter to American values.