Friday, March 13, 2009

Reflections of/the way life used to be

Something caught my eye the other day when President Obama signed the $410 billion spending bill. Obama signed the bill BUT included a signing statement. No big deal right? Overall, yeah. Who cares. A signing statement is basically the President saying, 'this is what I would have done if I was dictator and I may or may not enforce that part of the bill'. It really doesn't effect or change anything. But it exists. He can do it.

And boy-oh-boy did George W. Bush do it. Bush issued a staggering 1,200 signing statements. That's right, on over 1,200 of the bills W signed, he added his own personal opinion on each one! And you guessed it, the Democrats didn't like it! Including Sen. Obama!

So yeah, like anyone who cares about these things I was bummed out:

At the same time, after Democrats criticized former President George W. Bush's signing statements, Mr. Obama issued one of his own, declaring five provisions in the spending bill to be unconstitutional and nonbinding, including one aimed at preventing punishment of whistleblowers.

Presidents have employed signing statements to reject provisions of a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. Democrats and some Republicans have complained that Mr. Bush abused such statements by declaring that he would ignore congressional intent on more than 1,200 sections of bills, easily a record. Mr. Obama has ordered a review of his predecessor's signing statements and said he would rein in the practice.

Sure, Obama has about 1,199 signing statements to go before he catches up with Bush, but that isn't really the point. And while Obama was wise enough not to say never, the Obama Presidency has a feeling, fifty days in, that it's going to do some of the same things that W did.

And that's the real tragedy here (if you want to call it that). We can't go back. Well, we won't go back. Bush used signing statements. Therefore it's here to stay. For the rest of our lives, Presidents are going to issue signing statements like it's no one's business. That means the President from here on out isn't going to enforce the laws that Congress makes, he/she is going to pick and choose which laws he/she wants to enforce.

Just like George W. Bush.

I think that's what so many people don't realize about the Bush Presidency. He went places that no President had ever dared to go... and was never ever reigned in for such attempts. When Truman attempted to seize the steel industry, he was rebuffed. When Nixon refused to hand over the tapes, the Supreme Court stepped in. Their attempts to expand the President's powers were at least resisted.

But with W, that was almost never the case. Congress, who has been letting the President get away with more and more over the last seventy years, didn't even bother to stop Bush until the Democrats took over in 2007. But by then, it didn't matter? Bush had expanded the authority and power of the President.

And this is what I never ever understood about Obama's Change message... change what? He is really going to give up the powers that W had taken?

That was (and is) always going to be Obama's greatest struggle (after the economy) once he became President. Does he have the character to return some of the powers that aren't explicitly granted to him in the U.S. Constitution which Bush had taken? Would he return the civil liberties? Would he be less secretive?

So far? The answer is mixed. It is apparent that he is going to try and have a more open Presidency with more transparency and is less secretive. But he's already issuing signing statements. He's spending like Bush yet other than letting W's tax cuts for the rich expire, there are no plans to raise revenue.

I was cautiously optimistic about Obama back in November and December. I'm downgrading. I'm now neutral. I don't regret my support but I also believed that Obama had the character to resist the temptation of power...

It's early and things can change. But early returns seem like change isn't coming all that soon.

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