Dicktator-for-Life: Nixon, Cheney and Constitutional Calvinball über alles
In 1977, former president Richard Nixon offered up some interesting thoughts on the concept of legality.
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.
Now, notice how Tricky Dick frames this. It’s legal for the prez to do whatthefuckever if:
- national security is threatened, or
- there’s “a threat to internal peace” of “significant magnitude.”
Well, that certainly sounds reasonable.
A couple quick questions, though. First, how do we determine if there’s a threat, and second, what are the criteria for defining “significant magnitude”? Best I can tell, those calls rest with … the president?
Fast forward 31 years (that’d be to now for you non-math majors), where we find another prominent political Dick – Cheney, in this case – arguing that the Trickster was right, pretty much.
On Fox News Sunday today, host Chris Wallace asked Vice President Cheney, “if the President, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” “I think as a general proposition, I’d say yes,” replied Cheney.
Cheney went on to defend the administration’s actions over the past eight years:
CHENEY: There are bound to be debates and arguments from time to time and wrestling back and forth about what kinds of authority is appropriate in any specific circumstances, but I think that what we’ve done has been totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for.
Okay, let’s be sure I understand the argument, which seems to go something like this:
- If the country is at war…
- …anything the president does to protect the country is legal.
- (And war isn’t even required in Nixon’s formulation – if you’ll recall, the threat to internal peace that got him into hot water was the Democratic National Committee.)
- We seem to have agreed, in the run-up to our little Mesopotamian misadventure, that the president decides when we should go to war.
- Once we’re at war, it’s obviously the exclusive providence of the president to decide when to end it (see #2 above).
- Apparently the chief executive decides what constitutes as “protecting the country” (as contextualized by both Dicks, and also we have to keep in mind that the executive and vice presidential branches of government are the ones with access to all the information and who are charged with “interpreting” it).
If I’m tracking properly – and I can’t see that I’m taking any liberties at all with what the Dicks are saying – this means that:
- the president can do anything that is needed to protect the country in time of war or domestic unrest;
- his judgment alone decides what constitutes a threat to the country and what actions are “necessary”; that is, he controls absolutely the circumstances that afford him this power;
- only he dictates when the emergency circumstances have ended.
Which means that any president has, within the bounds of the Constitution as interpreted by Dick Cheney, the authority to establish himself as Dictator-for-Life. Is this about right?
Hail, Caesar. Let the Calvinball begin.
The movie “Frost/Nixon” has revitalized interest in Nixon’s arrogance toward the presidency (and the Constitution, and the country), though at the expense of some troubling (and distracting) historical inaccuracies. It’s worth seeing, but caveat spectator.