Thursday, July 27, 2006

From President to King to God

There are two strongly worded editorials criticizing Bush in, of all places, the Des Moines Register. (A frequent business traveler to Des Moines, I'm a regular reader.)

The first is today's lead editorial: an unequivocal condemnation of Bush's signing statements. The editorial notes (correctly, I think) that the veto of the stem-cell research bill was not a unique act:

Just because this president doesn't use the veto pen doesn't mean he intends to abide by every bill Congress sends to him. Rather than veto bills he doesn't like, he signs them and then quietly appends a "signing statement" saying he doesn't consider himself bound to enforce them. [...]

[The Constitution] does not say presidents may choose which laws to faithfully execute. [...] That seems obvious based on a minimal understanding of the American constitutional system in which Congress has the power to pass laws, the president the duty to enforce them and the courts the power to define their meaning. If the president could simply ignore statutes enacted by Congress that he or she deemed unconstitutional, the balance of powers would collapse.

Such a collapse would make presidential powers indistinguishable from a king who uses a parliament as an advisory committee. (Um, not to be picky, but isn't that what our nation's founders fought against?)

The conservative defense of these "signing statements" has been strikingly feeble, resorting even to dictionary definitions of "executive" or to ellipses-filled excerpts designed to make the statements look incomprehensibly innocuous. But I'm fairly confident that GOP supporters will tell us exactly what's wrong with them when the next Democratic president follows Bush's precedent.

The second article in the Register is a signed piece by Rekha Basu, avoiding the issue of the veto's uniqueness and arguing instead for its moral vacuousness. Basu notes, as many others have, the silliness of Bush's position, since so many of the embryos are routinely destroyed anyway. But Basu goes one step further, making a point I've usually seen made only by certain blogs and by Jon Stewart:
In fact, if Bush is so genuinely distressed by the loss of human life, how does he justify Iraq, Lebanon, the death penalty or simply the innumerable deaths that occur in America for lack of access to medical care?
It's a damned good question. But, As Paige argues at My Take on the News, when one shines a spotlight on the hypocrisy behind this allegedly "pro-life" stance, many conservatives cry "moral equivalence"--a new favorite term that right-wingers are trying to turn into a slur to replace the moribund "politically correct."

If conservatives truly value the sanctity of life, then this philosophical issue must be addressed with more than a meaningless slur. How have Bush and his supporters been able to justify the deaths of 50,000+ innocent civilians, including thousands of children, to conduct his experiment in Mideast democracy, yet at the same time condemn the use of otherwise useless embryos to conduct experiments in medical science. Who's really playing God here?

One conservative blogger mixes and stirs this very argument (which, I suppose, could be written as a mathematical formula: "embryos > American soldiers - terrorists"). Judging from his logic, we'll probably hear next that those children killed in Iraq are "willing participants in armed conflicts." I suppose they must have signed up at the local martyrdom recruiting station.

But at least the King Bush the Divine saved the embryos.