Thursday, April 12, 2007 | The history of the republic is a history of Congress and the president dueling for power, so let’s not be too shocked that the current Congress is challenging an incompetent presidency. In this showdown over Iraq, we see the value of division of power, rather than having it exclusively in the hands of one party.
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” wrote Madison in the Federalist Papers (No. 51), which laid out the principle of separation of power. The clash of ambition would protect us from tyranny.
Last November’s election was no accident. Voters couldn’t get at George W. Bush so did the next best thing and turned Congress over to the Democrats — including the Senate, which was considered a long shot. Had the outgoing Congress acted as the separate branch of government the constitution intended it to be, rather than the cat’s paw of the presidency, voters might not have turned it out.
The Bush Administration launched an all-out assault on our separation of powers system. Congress and the president merged into one and through appointments and confirmations began to suck the courts into its web. Minorities were ignored, dissent was suppressed, the press surrendered and imperial government replaced our traditional system of checks and balances.
Controlling all levers of power, Bush was able to impose a radical program on the nation and, through such aberrations as the doctrine of “pre-emptive war,” on the world. He achieved this sans mandate, for, as we know, he lost the popular vote in 2000. Had Bush been the president he promised — a uniter not a divider — his presidency would look very different today. But he listened to Vice President Dick Cheney, whose goal was to consolidate all power in the presidency, and now sits isolated in the White House, with only Cheney for company.
Even without the catastrophe of Iraq, as black a mark on this nation’s integrity as anything it has ever done, Bush’s presidency has been an exercise in presidential arrogance and incompetence that will burden us for years to come.