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Dick Cheney = Richard Nixon

by @ 4:38 pm on December 21, 2008. Filed under Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Politics, U.S. Constitution

In a post earlier today about the damage the Bush Administration has done to the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, I noted this telling exchange between former President Nixon and David Frost during their now-famous interviews:

FROST: The wave of dissent, occasionally violent, which followed in the wake of the Cambodian incursion, prompted President Nixon to demand better intelligence about the people who were opposing him. To this end, the Deputy White House Counsel, Tom Huston, arranged a series of meetings with representatives of the CIA, the FBI, and other police and intelligence agencies.

These meetings produced a plan, the Huston Plan, which advocated the systematic use of wiretappings, burglaries, or so-called black bag jobs, mail openings and infiltration against antiwar groups and others. Some of these activities, as Huston emphasized to Nixon, were clearly illegal. Nevertheless, the president approved the plan. Five days later, after opposition from J. Edgar Hoover, the plan was withdrawn, but the president’s approval was later to be listed in the Articles of Impeachment as an alleged abuse of presidential power.

FROST: So what in a sense, you’re saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston Plan or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

NIXON: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.

FROST: By definition.

NIXON: Exactly. Exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security, or in this case because of a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president’s decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they’re in an impossible position.

Well, consider this exchange between Vice-President Cheney and Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: This is at the core of the controversies that I want to get to with you in a moment. If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?

CHENEY: General proposition, I’d say yes. You need to be more specific than that. I mean — but clearly, when you take the oath of office on January 20th of 2001, as we did, you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

(…)

WALLACE: So what rights do the Congress — what constitutional rights do the Congress and the courts have to limit the power of the president when it comes to these matters of national security?

CHENEY: Well, the Congress has — clearly has the ability to write statutes and has certain constitutional authorities granted in the Constitution.

But I would argue that they do not have the right by statute to alter a presidential constitutional power. In other words, you can’t override his constitutional authorities and responsibilities.

So there you have it, if the President decides to do it, it’s not illegal, and it’s not reviewable by Congress.

In essence, the Bush/Cheney Administration spent the last eight years putting into practice the perverted imperialistic view of Executive Branch power that Nixon advocated and attempted to put into practice himself. The result has been a complete trashing of the idea that there are any real limits on the President’s power, and the complete emasculation of checks and balances thanks to a Congress that sat by and did nothing while the President and Vice-President trashed the Constitution, and it’s worth noting that for six of those years Congress was controlled by the party that claims to respect the Constitution above all else.

The Bush/Cheney Administration was, in the end, the final triumph of Richard Nixon.

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

7 Responses to “Dick Cheney = Richard Nixon”

  1. James Young says:

    I know you hate Cheney, Doug, but your conclusion is unsustained by the facts, and simply an effort to say “Cheney is Nixon is evil.” What Cheney actually said is uncontroversial. Congress “do[es] not have the right by statute to alter a presidential constitutional power”? That’s as basic as the holding Marbury v. Madison (Congress lacks the authority to alter by statute the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court). By analogy, of course, Congress “do[es] not have the right by statute to alter a presidential constitutional power.”

    And as to the notion of whether “If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal,” of course, the legal presumption is that it IS legal. He commented on a “general proposition,” with no specifics. He never said that an exercise of presidential power is unreviewable by the courts (Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer) or Congress (through exercise of the impeachment power).

    Cheney, of course, never said “if the President decides to do it, it’s not illegal, and it’s not reviewable by Congress.” Any suggestion that he did say so misrepresents his actual statements, and sounds more like the moonbat Left than a reasonable construction of his statement or his actions.

  2. James,

    The real question is what the President’s powers actually are.

    Cheney keeps mentioning in the interview issues regarding the President’s powers during a time of war. Well, we are not at war. No war has been declared by Congress, and, the last time I looked, that part of the Constitution has never been amended.

    The worst thing that has happened since the end of World War II is the extent to which the President has been given nearly universal carte blanche in foreign policy matters. In times of emergency, that is clearly necessary, but the power has been used in a unilateral manner in what are clearly not emergency situations.

    The Iraq War being a prime example. Constitutionally, the United States should not have invaded Iraq unless Congress was willing to actually declare war. They never did that and instead gave Bush unlimited authority to do whatever he wanted regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

  3. And, James, I don’t hate Cheney, I just think he’s been absolutely manifestly wrong on many issues and perhaps the most dangerous Vice-President since Aaron Burr.

  4. [...] Mataconis of Below the beltway doesn’t approve of the Bush/Cheney actions, but doesn’t feel they were unprecedented: In essence, the Bush/Cheney Administration spent the last eight years putting into practice the [...]

  5. James Young says:

    You’re right, Doug: “The real question is what the President’s powers actually are.” Wallace didn’t go farther in his questioning, and you are reading into Cheney’s comment your own caricatures of what you presume to be his views.

    And your comment “we are not at war” reflects such manifest ignorance of the realities of the conduct of foreign policy and the gradations of conflict as to be beneath you.

    As for the remainder of your rejoinder (“The worst thing that has happened since the end of World War II is the extent to which the President has been given nearly universal carte blanche in foreign policy matters”), that is certainly an argument that can be made. I would disagree with it, but it is a different argument. The premise is wrong; those who disagree with a President’s policy frequently claim wrongly that he exercises authority he either lacks or which has, in fact, been authorized and, perhaps most significantly, funded.

    But of course, the key is in your last sentence: Congress “gave Bush unlimited authority to do whatever he wanted….” You come around to making the point for which condemn Cheney’s comment: the purported lack of congressional authorization. In the end, you concede that the Administration did, in fact, have “unlimited authority.”

    And comparing Cheney to Aaron Burr is just silly.

  6. John Burke says:

    In this ongoing argument about the President’s authority, Bush-Cheney opponents never seem to recall that no President since Korea has mounted any sustained military action without express Congressional approval. In the case of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as with the first Gulf War and other conflicts, Congress authorized waging war.

    Subsequently, many Democrats and some Republicans turned against the war, claimed (a bit disingenuously) that they’d been tricked, repudiated their votes, and in many cases, ran against Bush and “his war” in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Notably, however, these war opponents never sought to do the one thing they had the clear-cut power to do: move to revoke the war authorization. Another course might have been to invoke the still-never-tested “War Powers Act.”

    That Democrats might have suffered politically for adopting either course is certainly true. Republicans would have attacked them for abandoning the troops, etc. But that is neither here nor there where the matter of Presidential and Congressional powers is concerned.

    Perhaps we would have seen a Constitutional crisis, if Congressional Democrats had exercised their unquestioned authority. Perhaps Bush and Cheney would have insisted the President had the power to continue waging war without an authorization resolution (as Truman did in Korea where he deliberately never even asked Congress to affirm what he presumed was an inherent Presidential power). Perhaps they would have thrown the issue to the Supreme Court. We’ll never know because the issue was never raised.

  7. Where I am we dont here much of Dick Cheney all we here is how Bush is ruining the country but I do Know Nixon from news I heard when I was a child and how he was disgraced and replaced

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