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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/12/09

Signing Statementing Our Way to Empire

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President Obama's second signing statement has generated a great deal of news coverage referring to it as his first. And the coverage largely suffers from the shadow of Obama's predecessor (and of Bush's fat sidekick), not to mention the shadow of Obama's recent statement about signing statements.

Let's get a few things out of the way: Obama has not abused power to the extent Bush and Cheney did, and he would have to work very hard to do so. I voted for him. I'm confident McCain-Palin would have been much worse. I support many things Obama has done in his first month-and-a-half and can't recall ever approving of a single thing that came out of the White House in the previous eight years other than George W. Bush's suitcases and his traitorous criminal self.

But I'm a citizen, not a fan. We don't need summer soldiers, spectators, or cheer leaders. We need a little honesty. If you want to praise unconstitutional presidential power because of the current president's brand name, you may actually be the explanation for the recently reported decline in religion in America: you've decided to worship a political party instead.

This terrific database counts (apparently without persuading anyone else) Obama's February 17th statement on the stimulus bill as his first "signing statement," and I blogged about that one here. But let's look at the new one:

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 11, 2009

Today I have signed into law H.R. 1105, the "Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009." This bill completes the work of last year by providing the funding necessary for the smooth operation of our Nation's Government.

As I announced this past Monday, it is a legitimate constitutional function, and one that promotes the value of transparency, to indicate when a bill that is presented for Presidential signature includes provisions that are subject to well-founded constitutional objections. The Department of Justice has advised that a small number of provisions of the bill raise constitutional concerns.

Indeed it does "promote the value of transparency," and even makes things more transparent, to announce in writing when you plan to violate laws. But aren't there some other values at stake too?

• Foreign Affairs
. Certain provisions of the bill, in titles I and IV of Division B, title IV of Division E, and title VII of Division H, would unduly interfere with my constitutional authority in the area of foreign affairs by effectively directing the Executive on how to proceed or not proceed in negotiations or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments. I will not treat these provisions as limiting my ability to negotiate and enter into agreements with foreign nations.

Provisions of a new law "WOULD" do something? If what? If the law were enforced as written and signed?

Your "constitutional authority in the area of foreign affairs"? Now, Addington and Bybee and Yoo and Cheney and Bush were certifiably insane when they claimed the president could shred the Constitution because he was the "commander in chief" and had "executive power," but at least those words actually appear in the Constitution. "Authority in the area of foreign affairs" is a phrase that Eric Holder must have pulled straight out of his assembled legal team, because it just ain't in what Madison, Mason, Jefferson, and friends wrote or ever would have written in the way you employ the phrase.

And, now that you mention it, the Constitution says precisely this about your supposed "ability to negotiate and enter into agreements with foreign nations":

"He shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."

As you know, your predecessor made a treaty with Iraq for three years of war, and did not seek the advice or consent of the Senate or the Congress as a whole. He thereby shredded this section of the Constitution and seized as well the power to make war, which -- according to the same Constitution -- also belongs to Congress.

When you were campaigning for office you favored Congressional "approval" of the treaty President Bush made with Iraq. As president-elect, you favored Congressional "review." As president you went silent for a month-and-a-half and then produced this statement defending your supposed right to do exactly what Bush did without Congress "limiting" or "interfering" in your supposed Constitutional power to do precisely what the Constitution denies you the right to do unless two-thirds of the Senators present permit it.

Is Afghanistan where you will first do it?

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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