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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Creating a New Mandate

I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.
-Franklin Roosevelt, comment to reformers

Yesterday, I wrote that the winners of the 2008 election were the people and that the winners shouldn't go home. We can count on Obama to work on the agenda he spelled out on the campaign trail, but there is still a place for activism after your guy wins. While the right is trying to launch an "Obama doesn't have a mandate" narrative, this seems doomed to failure to me, since it requires you to believe BS about what it is you want. I kind of think you're the expert there. You really don't need some jerk explaining to you what you think. As spin jobs go, this one seems a little pointless.

But Obama only has a mandate to do what he proposed in his presidential campaign; restoring tax fairness, reforming health care, rebuilding the economy, getting out of Iraq, investing in infrastructure and green energy, etc. These are the things we can expect the new president to address in his first term.

But there are issues that weren't brought up on the campaign trail. In discussing the president-elect, we tend to forget the sitting president. George W. Bush hid out during the campaign, an invisible president who avoided the public spotlight the way a vampire avoids sunlight. One big issue was fairly successfully avoided by John McCain and that was what the hell to do about George W. Bush and company.

A mandate isn't only given at the ballot box. When the people demand that something be done, that becomes an instruction to the government. "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny," Thomas Jefferson once said, "When the government fears the people, there is liberty." Government should be responsive to the people, not the other way around. The fact that we've been running this whole thing backwards needs to be addressed. Future executives must know that running the country like a dictatorship won't be without consequence, that the Constitution actually means something, that we are a government of laws.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)Which brings us to a remedy proposed by my own congress member, Rep. Tammy Baldwin:

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has introduced the Executive Branch Accountability Act of 2008, calling on the next President to reverse the damaging and illegal actions taken by the Bush/Cheney Administration and to collaborate with Congress to proactively prevent any further abuses of executive branch power.

“Over the past several years, serious questions have been raised about the conduct of high ranking Bush/Cheney Administration officials in relation to some of the most basic elements of our democracy: respect for the rule of law, the principle of checks and balances, and the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights,” said Baldwin. “The list of abuses of executive branch power is long, as are the Administration’s attempts to impede congressional oversight.

The act would:

-Ensure that any Bush/Cheney administration official guilty of a war crime is prosecuted under the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act.

-Affirm that it is the sole legal right of Congress to declare war.

-Restore the writ of habeas corpus as an essential principle of our democracy.

-Ensure that torture and rendition are uniformly prohibited under United States law.

-Immediately close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.

-Ensure that Americans can bring claims against their government.

-Immediately take affirmative steps to protect all documents from the Bush/Cheney Administration and publicly reaffirm that the Office of the Vice President is indeed part of the executive branch.

-Publicly review potential abuses of the presidential pardon process.

-Reform the use of presidential signing statements.

"On January 20, 2009, the next President of the United States will stand before the American people and take an oath of office to '...preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' Along with this oath, it is my fervent hope that he will take the decisive actions detailed in this legislation to restore our democracy," Baldwin says.

"On the surface, this may seen like a last jab at Bush and Cheney, and surely the portions of this proposal that address holding the former president and vice president, and members of their administration, to account will not sit well with those who would prefer to forgive and forget," says Baldwin constituent and writer for The Nation John Nichols. "But the real focus of the Executive Accountability Act is on the next presidency and the next Congress."

In a sane world, all of the provisions of the Executive Branch Accountability Act would be seen as redundant. But the validity of the Constitution of the United States of America has become a partisan issue, with the right seeming only to give a damn about the Second Amendment. I've joke that the Republican view of the Constitution can be summed up as "You can't take our guns. Praise Jesus. The End." Everything else is just crap we can all go ahead and ignore.

But without that founding document, this nation is nothing. There is no core, no guiding principles. And, if we allow a president to ignore the Constitution whenever the law becomes inconvenient, then we don't actually have one. It becomes meaningless and when someone actually cites constitutional requirements, it becomes a mere technicality that only nitpickers and anal retentive types care about. As a result, the president exists in a virtually lawless world which, as we all know now, leads to disaster for the nation.

Whether or not Baldwin's legislation actually goes anywhere is an open question. But if a fight is worth winning, then it's worth fighting regardless. I'd lose a thousand battles in a war for the right thing. I'd imagine that Barack Obama would probably be resistant to the idea, but as FDR pointed out, we can make the president we need.

We've got at least four years to pull this off and -- even if it only keeps Bush and Cheney from sleeping soundly at night -- it'd be worth the effort. Law without consequence is not law.