Monday, December 24, 2007

Mitt Romney and Tyranny

Mitt Romney does not believe that a president is subject to any serious legal constraints on his executive powers to do whatever the hell he wants.

That’s the conclusion of Glenn Greenwald and a host of other legal scholars based on a questionnaire submitted to all the presidential candidates.

Significantly, if not surprisingly, all of the candidates who did respond, with the exception of Romney, repudiated most of the key doctrines of the Bush/Cheney/Addington/Yoo theories of executive omnipotence, at least for purposes of this questionnaire.

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But by far the most extraordinary answers come from Mitt Romney. Romney’s responses — not to some of the questions but to every single one of them — are beyond disturbing. The powers he claims the President possesses are definitively — literally — tyrannical, unrecognizable in the pre-2001 American system of government and, in some meaningful ways, even beyond what the Bush/Cheney cadre of authoritarian legal theorists have claimed.

After reviewing those responses, Marty Lederman concluded: “Romney? Let’s put it this way: If you’ve liked Dick Cheney and David Addington, you’re gonna love Mitt Romney.” Anonymous Liberal similarly observed that his responses reveal that “Romney doesn’t believe the president’s power to be subject to any serious constraints.” To say that the President’s powers are not “subject to any serious constraints” — which is exactly what Romney says — is, of course, to posit the President as tyrant, not metaphorically or with hyperbole, but by definition.

Each of the questions posed by Savage is devoted to determining the extent of presidential power the candidate believes exists and where the limits are situated. On every issue, Romney either (a) explicitly says that the President has the right to act without limits of any kind or (b) provides blatantly nonresponsive answers strongly insinuating the same thing.

Just go and read what he wrote. It’s extraordinary. Other than his cursory and quite creepy concession that U.S. citizens detained by the President are entitled to “at least some type of habeas corpus relief” — whatever “some type” might mean (Question 5) — Romney does not recognize a single limit on presidential power. Not one.

I’m not sure which I find more disturbing; the fact that Gov. Romney actually believes in this sort of legalistic gandydancing around both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, especially after the last seven years, or that there are voters out there that find this acceptable. Given his propensity for being able to jump from left to right whenever its politically expedient or remember things that didn’t actually happen, it’s even more frightening to imagine what he could come up with if he became president.

I realize that there is a powerful temptation to become, as Pink Floyd puts it, comfortably numb in the face of the problems we see in the reality-based community: terrorism, global warming, poverty, crumbling schools, and 50 million people — many of the children — without health insurance — and that many, many Americans would just rather not think about them. It’s so easy just to let things happen, let other people worry about it, trust someone else to keep the riff-raff off the streets, chase out the illegal immigrants, and make the trains run on time. We have heard the siren songs of tyranny in this country before, be it from the witch hunts of Salem and HUAC, the populist dictatorship of Huey Long, or the xenophobia of Father Coughlin, and there have been times when the numbness seems to gain the upper hand and the clamorings of the demagogues and the religious zealots or the stumbling syntaxes of a Decider in Chief have tried to lure us into their trap.

But we have always managed to overcome them. We have seen all too often in the history of the world what happens with that mindset, and while we have flirted with the temptations of tyranny, even when it came wrapped in the gauze of national security and patriotism, we have ultimately rejected them. We need to make damn sure that it doesn’t happen again… any more than it already has.