The Sinking Ship


Anyone who writes about politics for public consumption risks having his or her views mischaracterized, and we are no exception. In one notable example, a reader recently branded us "left-leaning." Such a laughable notion would quickly be dispelled by anyone who spent more than a couple of minutes with our chairman, Doug Casey, who believes that the only good government is no government at all.

At Casey Research, we don't all fall on the same point in the political spectrum, of course, but it's safe to say that we share some core values. We believe in free enterprise, small government, fiscal conservatism, avoiding entanglements in foreign countries, the maximum personal liberty commensurate with public safety, and a rule of law designed to enhance that freedom. What people choose to call such a philosophy - whether "libertarian," or "classical liberal" (in the 19th-century sense) or even "anarchism" - matters little. It's a tradition with deep historical roots in this country and a point of view that, we hope, will eventually prevail.

The only reason we can think of that someone would call us left-leaning is that we have been highly critical of the Bush administration. At one time, we would have had little company; now 7 out of 10 Americans agree with us. Frankly, we're always a little uneasy to find ourselves part of a majority, but that feeling is tempered by the knowledge that we've been consistent. Take another look at those core beliefs, and you won't find one that this administration hasn't trampled.

And the transgressions seem like they will never abate.

A recent example. Some constituents of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), concerned about what might be contained in classified portions of the White House plan for operating the government after a terrorist attack, requested that their representative look into the matter. Sounds routine, especially since DeFazio sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security, and is allowed to view classified material in a secure "bubble room" in the Capitol building. DeFazio asked to see the documents.

The request came back from the White House. Access: DENIED. No reason given.

"I just can't believe [it] ..." DeFazio said. "We're talking about the continuity of the government of the United States of America. I would think that would be relevant to any member of Congress, let alone a member of the Homeland Security Committee."

More to the point, it seems to us that any reasonable person might ask: What's in that document that the president doesn't want members of Congress, much less the American people, finding out about?

Such contempt for anyone outside its own tight circle has caused an erosion of support for the administration that is spreading fast among Republicans as well as Democrats and whoever else still cares. That Republican politicians would start to defect is utterly predictable. After all, their own hold on power is getting shakier, dependent as it is on the loyalty of voters increasingly fed up with the Bush administration. Are they acting primarily (or solely) out of self-interest rather than principle? Seems likely to us.

But Mr. Bush is losing more dispassionate conservatives as well. Notable in this regard were some words in late July out of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the nation's preeminent right-wing think tank.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI, and the study of government continuity is one of his specialties. In regards to the DeFazio decision, he said that he "cannot think of one good reason" for the administration's action. "I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House," he added.

Ornstein was even more critical in a July 25 article entitled, "Call Out the Cops - It's Time to Reopen the Capitol Jail," published on AEI's website.

The author was following up on a previous article, published two weeks earlier, in which he first defended executive privilege, writing: "It may be a derived power [i.e., not explicitly in the Constitution], but executive privilege is a real power. It exists, as the Supreme Court [has ruled], to allow the president to have candid and free-flowing advice." However, he then went on to note, "It does not apply to communications between Justice officials and White House aides who are, say, discussing the politics of firing U.S. attorneys or the legal basis of a surveillance program."

In the later article, Ornstein responded specifically to White House counsel Fred Fielding, who "has issued a blanket ukase saying no U.S. attorney will prosecute or carry forward any contempt charge brought by Congress where executive privilege has been declared by the president."

Shrugging off the idea that this is a "breathtakingly broad" view of privilege, Ornstein wryly noted that, "If we take every assertion of executive power by this White House as breathtaking, we would all need to take oxygen tanks with us wherever we go." Then he got down to business.

Ornstein applauded Congress's prospective use of the threat of contempt citations to compel present and former administration officials to testify under oath as to what is actually going on in the executive branch. "Perhaps it is time," he wrote, "for Congress to dust off its rusty inherent contempt power, reopen the Capitol hoosegow [...] and put a couple of people behind bars for a few days or a bit longer to show that [...] the blanket assertion of executive privilege and untethered executive power just does not wash."

Another dissident is Constitutional authority Bruce Fein, an adjunct scholar with the AEI, the author of the first article of impeachment against Bill Clinton, and a resident scholar at the Heritage Foundation, the other bastion of conservative thought.

In a June 27 article in Slate, this veteran of the impeachment process lets it all hang out, raising the "I" word without apology. After enumerating a long list of abuses committed against the people by this administration, Fein lays them squarely at the feet of *** Cheney, to whom Bush, he maintains, has "outsourced the lion's share of his presidency, and Mr. Cheney has made the most of it. Since 9/11, he has proclaimed that all checks and balances and individual liberties are subservient to the president's commander in chief powers in confronting international terrorism."

Fein writes that, "President Bush regularly is unable to explain or defend the policies of his own administration, and that is because the heavy intellectual labor has been performed in the office of the vice president."

This is an administration out of control, and Cheney "has run utterly amok and must be stopped," Fein argues. The only recourse is for Congress to remove him from office. And make no mistake, Cheney "is impeachable for his overweening power and his sneering contempt of the Constitution and the rule of law," Fein writes.

Such bold statements would be easily dismissed if they came from liberals. But issuing from the other side of the aisle, they are indicative of how widespread the perception is that the ship of state is sinking. Who, we wonder, could still think otherwise?

Posted 08-07-2007 11:03 PM by DougHornig