Restoring American Democracy and Global Conflict Prevention

This editorial from the New York Times should be read in conjunction with Gary Wills’ trenchant analysis of Cheney’s aspiration for what conservatives have called ‘the unitary executive’, a doctrine that was responsible for nothing less than the catastrophe in Iraq, the torture, Guantanamo Bay, and scores of violations of the intent of the framers of the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Wills writes:

All these policies were driven by the unitary executive theory of the Constitution, which emanated from David Addington in Vice President Cheney’s office. Charlie Savage has documented that four Supreme Court justices are already enthusiastic supporters of the unitary theory—Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. It takes only a fifth justice to solder that theory into place for the foreseeable future. This would be the most thorough reworking and distortion of the Constitution in all our history.

The stakes are staggering. That is why the Republicans are so desperate to win this year. If they fail, not only will their previous encroachments be endangered, but the investigation of illegal acts will be removed from protection by presidential veto. Nothing short of wholesale pardons by the outgoing president can give many people cover for acts they undertook on the assurance that the unitary executive was exempt from congressional action. This prospect is so terrifying that John McCain has taken over the thuggish tactics that defeated him in 2000. The Republicans have everything to lose….

There is something terrifying in the fact that a sweeping presidential power that is rejected even by an early advocate of the unitary executive is now accepted by four of the nine Supreme Court justices. Add a fifth justice to them, and the Constitution will be under the severest siege in its history. There can be no higher stakes.

Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights

There is something exquisitely beautiful and terrifying that the choice that Americans are about to make is central to whether the United States will be an aggressive force for conflict in the world, but also, perhaps unbeknown to most Americans, this is a choice that may save their democracy from a steep slide into an authoritarian regime unprecedented in its history. By doing the right thing by others around the world they may be also saving their children from a steady deterioration of American freedom.

And perhaps the financial crisis is well timed to restore Americans to their senses on a host of issues, from the environment, to war, to civil liberties. Perhaps 9/11 was not a wake-up call, as the right wing has argued. Perhaps it was a soporific, putting Americans to sleep, lulled into violence and war as the solution to all problems of good and evil due to a misguided president and a dark vice president. Perhaps it is the financial crisis that has woken them up, despite themselves, just in time, and will put us back into a realistic approach to a complicated world.

© Marc Gopin