IN THE NEWS
Let's not act surprised at Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that he can de-classify any document, under the provisions of an executive order that President Bush signed in 2003. Cheney's statement is perfectly consistent with what the Bush Administration has said about Guantanamo Bay and other executive decisions made since 9/11. The Administration believes that war creates situations that only the executive branch has the authority to handle. Article II, section 2 of the US Constitution contains only 34 words about the President's war powers ("The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States"), but the Bush team has been willing to stuff the justification for everything from warrantless wiretaps to Guantanamo Bay into those few words. If you're shocked, shocked to discover that Cheney wants to stretch Article II, section 2 even further, you just haven't been paying attention.
The only surprising development is the absence of mass demonstrations over a clear subversion of the Constitution. Nothing in the US Constitution says that a state of war nullifies the Constitution itself. The issue is not, as jurists have argued in past decades, the wartime limitations on free speech or other individual liberties of the Bill of Rights. The real question is the separation of powers, the system of overlapping responsibilities that the Framers clearly and deliberately assigned to the different branches of the federal government. In other words, there's never really been a debate over whether a Roman-style dictator is granted emergency powers during war; the Constitution clearly does not allow it. We've managed somehow to get through a Civil War, two World Wars, and the threat of nuclear armageddon without a dictator. Rather than defending the Constitution that somehow saw them through these national emergencies, Americans are watching docilely while the Administration says, Because some terrorists got lucky, the Consitution is now whatever we say it is. Or we just ignore it.
If that doesn't get the average American's blood boiling, how about the craven way in which Cheney exercised his so-called authority? Rather than de-classify a document and present it to the public, the Administration leaked the information to a select group of "friendly" reporters. The Constitution certainly does not grant the executive branch the authority to be sneaky and underhanded in presenting a cassus belli to the American public.
Americans should have already been on their guard when, in 2001, Bush broke with centuries of political tradition and Constitutional interpretation in naming Cheney as a virtual "co-President." The Bush people will continue to bend and break the Constitution, as long as there isn't a noisy, obnoxious protest. Not the timid complaints of the Congressional Democrats, a few choice bon mots on the talk shows, a witty cartoon in The New Yorker, a fund-raising campaign for a particular PAC or party, or another primal scream in the blogs. The only way these abuses will end is if you, Dear Reader, get out there and put yourself on the line. It's what "America's heroes" have done in countless wars, where blood was spilt to preserve, not suspend, the US Constitution. You will have to be polite and persuasive to those who don't agree with you, but you will have to confront them. You will have to make time out of your busy schedule to make your voice heard--in person, not in an e-mail or letter to the editor that will be quickly ignored. You will have to demand of leaders that that lead, providing the organization and means needed to convert a single person's outrage into a roaring tumult. If you have waited your whole life for the moment when you can do something important, that time has arrived.