Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Restoring the Constitution

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers makes several excellent points about Obama's efforts to restore the Constitution. It's an excellent post, and deserves to be read in full (it's not very long). A reminder of how deep the corruption went:

[the Bush administration] didn't just break run of the mill laws -- they broke the central stuff that's laid down in the constitution. Their whole program was rooted in this violation of the constitution -- without that enormous breach, they couldn't have their expansive conception of executive power, upon which so many other things depended.
Democracy works because most of us - most, unfortunately not all - believe in the system, and respect the idea that the system is more important than us. But there are a few people who do not believe in the system of constitutional law, and are willing to subvert it in ways that the rest of us can barely imagine. I don't know if Bush was one of these people, but I do know that he tolerated them, and that Cheney and people on his staff were this type. I doubt Bush on his own would have trashed the Constitution as thoroughly as his Cheney and Addington did, but he sure enjoyed the benefits.

The reader points out that Obama's life as a professor of constitutional law has not gotten much attention (not as much as, say, his career as a community organizer), but that this is a key to his success. I completely agree. Lawsuits and court cases are won by three things; the facts, the law, and the ability of the lawyer to make his/her case. When it comes to repudiating Bush, Obama has the facts and the law on his side. But more importantly, he has the ability to make his case. He does so with a variation of the Powell Doctrine; he engages his opponent with overwhelming force, with the support of the American people, and with a clearly defined exit strategy. Because Bush isn't very bright, he wasn't able to build an intellectually robust defense of his philosophy of governing. Sullivan's correspondent again:
[t]his is one area where there is an enormous difference between Obama and Mrs. Clinton. She would not have moved to reestablish the proper constitutional role of the executive. She wouldn't have understood that it's the distortion of that role that's at the center of so many of our problems. Every single thing he's done points to an understanding that Cheney's distorted view of the executive is to blame for so much that's wrong, and there has been no hesitation, no wavering, in his response. He's gone in surgically and attacked it.
Liberals were frustrated at trying to engage Bush intellectually; he just brushed us off. Many liberals ended up forgetting the role that intellect plays in political combat; what good is being smart if your opponent ignores you and apparently gets away with it?

Obama never forgot this. Moreover, he is accustomed to winning debates on their intellectual merits in one of the toughest environments in the world. Because the foundations of Bush's ideas were so weak, Obama was able to dismantle them with a few strokes of his pen.

Republicans have no idea what has hit them. They will not have an idea for a while.

Sullivan's succinct response is worth quoting in full:
I agree. In fact, I'm staggered by how deep and profound the change already is. The antidote to the Cheney poison has been delivered. It will take some time to work through the system. But America is back.
I would only disagree with the last line, and I do so not because I do not think that America is back (although I appreciate the rhetorical power of the phrase), but because I don't think America ever left. The Constitution may bend, but it doesn't break.

American democracy is designed to withstand the maximum damage that can be inflicted on it, either by enemies outside or within. We have just witnessed that in action; both the infliction of severe damage, and the ability to contain that damage. What we will be witnessing for the foreseeable future is the recovery process. That requires, at the very least, five things: passion, political skill, commitment to the system of laws known as American democracy, wisdom, and strength. We are fortunate to have a president who has all five. But we are even more fortunate to live in a country where someone like Obama can not only flourish, but who the system calls forth at time of dire need. Like now.

No comments: