I meet with people in my district and elsewhere in the country, and I have for a couple of years now been engaged in some debate with some of my liberal friends on the nature of our disagreements with this Administration. And up until a few months ago, my argument was that we should focus on policy issues where we disagreed: the war in Iraq, and policies that undercut working people, promote inequality, weaken the environment and undercut the rights of minorities.
Others have said, Go beyond that. We have to indict this Administration for the philosophy of governing, and people have questioned its commitment to democracy. I continue to disagree that we should question this Administration’s commitment to democracy.
Some of the words that get thrown around–authoritarianism and worse–should not be used lightly. This remains today, in the sixth year of the Bush presidency, a very free country. People are free to speak out, to dissent and to be critical. So while I agree that this Administration believes in democracy in the broadest sense, I am now convinced that it is a very different kind of democracy than that which has prevailed for most of our history.
Yes, the President agrees that the source morally or the power of the government is an election, and he believes that the President ought to be elected. I agree that the President honors the concept that you gain power in a democratic society by winning the election. But here is the difference.
We have historically talked about checks, about balances, about our three branches of government. We have contrasted that to the more unitary governments in other parts of the world, even democratic ones. We have separate legislative, judiciary and executive branches.
This is an Administration which considers checks and balances to be a hindrance. They believe that democracy consists essentially of electing a President every four years and entrusting to that President almost all of the important decisions.
I believe we have seen a seizing of power that should not have been seized by the executive branch. But thanks to the acquiescence of a Republican majority in this Congress, driven in part by ideological sympathy, the President has been allowed to be the decider. So we have had a very different kind of American government. It is democracy, but it is closer to plebiscitary democracy than it is to the traditional democracy of America.
Plebiscitary democracy: Political scientists use this to describe those systems wherein a leader is elected but once elected has almost all of the power. Indeed, I believe, it certainly would seem to me the aspirations of the Vice President.
Elect the President. Let him win and then get out of his way. We had a debate here a month ago on the floor of this House on the right of the President to ignore legislation passed thirty years ago, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by which the President and Congress together set forward a method for wiretapping and eavesdropping in cases where we thought there were foreign threats to the US.
This is a case where the President and Congress together, in the Carter Administration, explicitly adopted a scheme to listen in on people who meant us ill. It was followed by Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton. And then this President said, I don’t like that, it’s too confining, so I will ignore it. I will instead use my power to do what I want to do and forget the requirements of the law.