Pincer: A movement in which two columns are driven, one on each side of an enemy stronghold, so as to be able to converge like the jaws of pincers to isolate and crush the stronghold.
Echoing calls from the left, Senator Arlen Specter recently announced plans to hold hearings on what he has described as the executive branch’s blatant encroachment on Congressional authority. At the same time, the libertarian Cato Institute has issued a report condemning what its authors describe as the Bush Administration’s ceaseless push for power and its disdain for constitutional limits. And the American Bar Association has just set up a bipartisan all-star legal panel to investigate whether George W. Bush is violating the Constitution by claiming the right to ignore laws passed by Congress. What’s needed now is for those from different points on the political spectrum to cooperate to put effective checks and balances on the presidential power grab.
Bush’s usurpations of constitutional powers have been so wide in scope that they’ve often been perceived as separate issues affecting distinct constituencies. Charlie Savage reported in the April 30 Boston Globe that Bush has claimed he can ignore more than 750 statutes, including “military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ‘whistleblower’ protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.” Even those who regard torture, rendition, government secrecy, domestic spying and similar abuses as scandalous and reprehensible don’t always grasp that they are all manifestations of the same defiance of constitutional principles. Indeed, we face a “stealth authoritarianism.”
The Cato Institute’s new report, Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush, represents a big step toward putting together the pieces. It identifies a whole slew of violations, including the denial of habeas corpus, the violation of international torture conventions, efforts to deny the right to a jury trial and the erosion of war powers restrictions. According to Cato, the Administration believes, “When we’re at war, anything goes, and the president gets to decide when we’re at war.” This view of executive power, says the report, should “disturb people from across the political spectrum.” Indeed, the Cato report is so compelling because it hews so closely to the basic critique made by Representative John Conyers in his House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff report, The Constitution in Crisis, and by others in the peace and human rights movements. In words that might spill from the mouth of Cindy Sheehan or Scott Ritter, Cato concludes that we now have “a president who can launch wars at will, and who cannot be restrained from ordering the commission of war crimes, should he choose to do so.”
Differences, of course, remain. The Cato report, for example, hails the Administration’s battle against gun control. And there are still powerful sections of the right that accept the authoritarian view of the Administration and the Federalist Society that presidential authority must not be subject to checks and balances. But as Bush’s support collapses even among conservatives, possibilities are opening for an alliance against constitutional usurpation. Earlier this year, former Democratic Vice President Al Gore initiated a promising courtship between progressive and conservative forces when he joined former Republican Congressman Bob Barr to express “our shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.” As Gore explained, “In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.” Administration lawlessness also emerged as a theme in the “revolt” of retired senior military officials. Noting that the United States is already engaged in military action against Iran, retired Colonel Sam Gardiner told Democracy Now! on April 17, “It’s a very serious question about the constitutional framework under which we are now conducting military operations in Iran.”