Craven Congress

Message to George W: Contact Earth if your spaceship ever comes near our planet.
We’ve known for quite a while that the President is way, way out there, circling around in his own happy little orbit far beyond the gravitational pull of reality. But, good grief, his recent declamation of “success” for his Iraq War took the meaning of delusional to new heights.

On the fifth anniversary of this debacle, Bush gave a speech hailing his invasion as a “remarkable display of military effectiveness,” while also asserting that his Iraq policy “has opened the door to a major strategic victory.”

Hmmm.

Four thousand Americans dead, many thousands more maimed (and de­prived of adequate veterans’ care), a dollar cost that will reach into the trillions, a devastated and broken society in Iraq, a gross stain on America’s reputation, an energized enemy that makes our country more vulnerable to terrorists, an exhausted U.S. military, an Iraqi army that can’t (or won’t) secure its own country, and an Iraqi government that is dysfunctional and perpetually dependent on American largesse.

Way to go, George.

Last month, I saw a bumper sticker in Colorado that offered this urgent plea: “Save America: Put Bush in a Straitjacket.” That is, of course, what Congress should do, at least politically, if not literally. But the legislative branch has failed us, cravenly acquiescing to (and even sanctioning) a Bush-Cheney regime that has been using its own war whoops as a cover for shredding our Constitution and imposing an imperial executive.

On issues of huge import—such as war funding, torture, domestic spying, and yes, impeachment—our Congress critters have been weaker than Canadian hot sauce. Not only have they been going along with obvious executive excess but they’ve also been merrily giving away their own constitutional powers.

Take “the Fence,” the wall being built along 700 miles of our border with Mexico. This thing is monstrous, but even more monstrous is the unprecedented dictatorial authority that Congress handed to the Homeland Security czar to erect it. In 2005, our legislators gave carte blanche to Czar Chertoff to overrule any of our laws that he thinks might interfere with building this border barrier. Environmental law, labor law, property law—you name it—all can be voided on the unilateral say-so of Chertoff. Even Cheney, who claims to be his own branch of government, can’t do that.

To make Chertoff’s power absolute, Congress also took the astonishing step of banning federal appeals courts from reviewing his decisions. And the czar has not been modest about asserting his autocratic rule, having already suspended more than thirty of our laws.

In one important case, the Democrats clearly had the White House cornered on its crass, illegal effort to turn nonpartisan U.S. attorney offices into GOP political attack machines. A House committee was investigating, but when it called Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten to testify about the politicization of justice, the White House curtly defied the perfectly proper Congressional demand.

The committee then voted to hold the two officials in contempt, but Democratic leaders were skittish about even asking Bush’s Attorney General to enforce the contempt citation. When they finally got up the nerve to do so, the Attorney General imperiously said no.

A little-known doctrine called the power of “inherent contempt” gives Congress the incontrovertible right to enforce its own contempt citations. By “enforce,” I mean that Congress can send its sergeant-at-arms to arrest the White House outlaws, imprison them in a Capitol jail, and put them on trial by the Congress itself.
Wouldn’t that make good TV?

Jim Hightower produces The Hightower Lowdown political newsletter and is the author of the new book “Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow.”