L. Neil Smith's
Number 352, January 29, 2006

"Another Major Dose of Smoke and Mirrors"

Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Gore
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

I never thought I would say this. In fact, I may regret saying it. But I've been thinking lately. And looking back, I'm sort of happy I voted for Al Gore.

I was never a big Gore fan. I spent most of the year 2000 switching back and forth between the two major candidates, only to settle on Gore as I stood in the voting booth that cold Election Day morning. I didn't like how he came across during the recounts, though. He seemed whiny and used words like "snippy" too much. By the time he conceded a few weeks later, I'd flip-flopped to Bush again—where I remained until I renounced political parties altogether two years ago this week.

Even after parting ways with Bush, I never regretted the fact that Gore wasn't president. This is because I never really thought he would've been better. For the most part, I still don't think he would have. But last week, Gore gave what was quite possibly the seminal speech of our current political era (or at least the seminal speech of mid-January 2006). Standing before a bipartisan audience at Constitution Hall, he laid out an impeccable case against his conqueror. And for the first time ever, I've got to admit: He sort of made me wish he had won.

People are going to say this speech was just a partisan potshot from an embittered political rival. To some extent or another, I'm sure that's what it was. And to be quite honest, I'm sure I wouldn't've liked it as much if I'd watched it on TV; instead, I read the transcript, so I didn't have to see the words coming out of his mouth (which is rarely a pretty scene). But be that as it may, I just don't see how anyone could disagree with the case he made.

Here was his basic point: Throughout American history, there have been tumultuous times which have led to "constitutional crises," such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In each of these cases, Americans have looked back and kind of, sort of regretted their actions. And where possible, they have gone back and tried to correct them. In today's War on Terror, however, we are faced with a unique kind of constitutional crisis, which involves the consolidation of power in the hands of our president. This is a threat to our system of checks and balances. But more importantly, if taken to its logical extreme, we won't be able to go back and correct it, because it'll wipe out the democratic levers of our society.

Now, you don't have to believe that Bush is a bad man or even a bad president to believe there are many examples of Bush White House power grabs. In fact, you may well think these power grabs aren't power grabs, but rather necessary measures due to our current war. You might think it's important for the CIA to run secret prisons in Europe, for instance, or that it's vital the prisoners within those prisons sniff one another's crotches while pregnant American soldiers with cigarettes in their mouths look on. You might think the president's ability to hold "enemy combatants" without trial is essential to beating Usama bin Laden. You might even think his decision to spy on Americans without warrants is totally reasonable because 3,000 people were murdered one morning a couple of years ago. In and of themselves, all of these things can be justified. But the problem is, none of these things are happening in and of themselves.

The Bush administration tends to operate above and beyond the law. As Gore notes, this annoying little habit derives from something called the theory of the unitary executive—which is a term you've probably heard in political circles over the last few weeks. Personally, I think "Unitary Executive" will be like our very own "Fuhrer." Which, to me, is just awesome. I've always wondered what the coming American Empire's hip new tyrannical buzzword would be. (For short, may I suggest "Unitard"?) But since I get in trouble whenever I make Nazi analogies, let me quote Gore here, who describes this theory as the belief that "the president's authority when acting as commander in chief cannot be reviewed by the judiciary, cannot be checked by Congress."

In other words, the theory of the unitary executive states that all three branches of government are equal, except when we're at war, in which case one branch is more equal than the others.

In a war that will last for "generations," this is somewhat disconcerting.

Now, it would be drastic to say America as we know it is already over. I'd probably be going a little too far if I said we're living under autocratic rule. But Gore's point, which I agree with, is that authoritarianism is at the far end of the road our country is taking. You might think we won't get to the end, or that it won't be so bad once we get there, but the point is that's the road we're on. It's hard to deny this. The signs are posted everywhere.

When the president signed the recent anti-torture bill, for instance, he issued a "signing statement" saying he reserved the right to ignore the law in the name of national security. Now, that's all well and good if he cares about our safety, but think about this for a moment. Seriously. Think about it. If a president reserves the right to ignore a law, then why bother signing it? Why not crumble it up and toss it in the trashcan? The point here isn't whether torture is necessary. The point is our Congress passed a law saying it was illegal. The president signed that law, but he essentially crossed his fingers. We have a system of checks and balances in this country, and the White House plans to transcend that system until every last terrorist on the planet is captured or killed. Unfortunately, that's a day that may never come. Terrorists work in the "shadows." You'd have an easier time vowing to find Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Bigfoot, the Hamburglar, Papa Smurf, Nessie, the Great Pumpkin, the king of Atlantis, O.J.'s "real killers," and the little sister who magically stopped existing with no explanation on Family_Matters (not the actress; the actual character).

None of which is to say we should roll over and let terrorists kill us. Clearly, we shouldn't. But we shouldn't discard checks and balances in our efforts to stop them, either. And make no mistake: Discarding checks and balances is what the unitary executive theory does. Once a president thinks he can reinterpret congressional law to his liking, there's nothing he can't get away with. We could catch him strangling puppies in the Lincoln Bedroom, but what are you going to do—impeach him? Who's to say he would listen? He's the unitary executive. Impeachment can mean whatever he wants it to mean.

Obviously, what I'm saying here is based on conjecture. I have no idea if full-blown tyranny will come to America. Nor do I know if it'll happen under Bush. (Though to be quite honest, the more the White House works above the law, the more I wonder if maybe 2000 was a coup...) But what I'm saying is, checks and balances are supposed to prevent tyranny under any president. And I'm sort of confused as to why Americans would want to give that up.

Of course, just saying the things I'm saying here will probably cause people to call me a "liberal," a "radical," or an "extremist." But in a roundabout way, I suppose that answers the question I just asked.

People are going to read this column, and they're going to respond by telling me, "Oh, yeah? Well, you complain about Bush, but I bet you didn't mind when Clinton did [insert something Clinton did]." Because this is what it's come to in America. This is what Blue States and Red States have done to us. You can't question the establishment now. Or let me rephrase that: You can question the establishment. But if you do, you're a partisan, in which case we can ignore your alarmist, checks-and-balances rhetoric.

I don't blame this on Bush, really. I blame it on our general post-9/11 culture. I blame it on this tendency Americans suddenly have to not just marginalize but vilify viewpoints they don't agree with. Somehow, in the era of Ann Coulter's Treason, sticking up for checks and balances has become traitorous and anti-American. To me, that makes George Bush a threat to the Constitution. But it's not because he's George Bush, or because I don't like him. It's because people are so busy protecting their emotional attachments to him that they won't even question whether his policies are constitutional. And if we don't care about the Constitution, why the hell should he?

I guess that's why I'm happy I voted for Al Gore. It's not that I think he would've been a better president (though I do think he's saying all the right things now). It's just that I can't imagine anyone getting so emotionally attached to him. I know that sounds like an derogatory statement, but it isn't really intended that way. All I'm saying is, people all over the world who've never been to our country can see that what's happening in America is distinctly un-American. The Minutemen on the border, the cries of religious purity, the vilification of the press—even this idea that it's America, love it or leave it. This stuff just screams fascist nationalism. I can't believe I'm the only one who sees it. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here. But the point is, these are the kinds of things that happen in a cult of personality. And if Al Gore were president, you wouldn't have to worry about that, because Al Gore has no personality.

Think about it. We'd be better off if he won.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column on politics, personal freedoms, and pop culture issues. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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