Tuesday, January 16, 2007

the rule of law

Digby has written extensively lately of the Administration's expansive view of executive power and disdain for both the Congress and the American people, and how those views suggest they will ignore any attempt by Congress to constrain their behavior. There's almost nothing in the record of this Administration that would contradict that view.

At the root of the problem is the fact that while Congress makes laws and the Supreme Court interprets them, the President has sole executive power. Everyone in the Federal government who would actually enforce a law or a judgement works for the President, and after six years of this administration, there's almost no one left in a position of authority who hasn't been tested for either ideological purity or extraordinary compliance.

If, as appears possible, we're on the verge of a Constitutional collision between branches of historic proportion, it might be time to ask ourselves what limits this Administration does perceive. If it can ignore Congressional authority over its ability to wage war or to conduct domestic surveillance without warrants, for example, what else can it ignore? If it can ignore the courts on treatment of prisoners, what else can it ignore? What are the limits of an executive unconstrained by concern for public opinion, convinced that he is divinely inspired and led, supported by a cadre of like fanatics? Is the rule of law--any rule of law--protection against an executive convinced he serves a higher authority?

I've written before that I am less concerned with whether a politician follows the letter of the law than I am with who he serves. I prefer a personally corrupt politician who advances the public good to a paragon of personal virtue who destroys it. In this case, I'd certainly prefer a politician who respected our Constitution more and his own judgement less. Is that a contradiction? Perhaps, perhaps not.

In the end, our laws are only as good as the people we elect to enforce them. It's important to elect people with enough humility to realize that they are not us, they only represent us. Respect for law is one marker of that humility. Respect for the opinions of those who disagree with you is another.

If we elect people who lack that humility--and who have repeatedly demonstrated that lack--no body of law will protect us.

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