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Political Animal

As They See It

By Brian Morton | Posted 3/1/2006

Many, many years ago, your humble Political Animal toiled in a boring job entailing working ridiculous hours for a nebbishy boss whose supervisors walked all over him (and, by extension, us). We took out our frustrations the only way we knew how—by tormenting the nebbish ourselves.

My apartment building was only a three-minute drive from the office. So I called one day five minutes before my shift started. “Jim,” I said, “I can’t make it in to work today.”

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I have a vision problem.”

“What do you mean, a ‘vision problem’? Is there something wrong with your eyesight?”

“Yeah—I can’t see coming in to work.” And then, after some squealing of tires, I’d walk in two minutes before the shift began.

Bush administration officials have begun using my little joke in earnest now. Anything that doesn’t fit their standard worldview is something they just cannot see, often on purpose. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank pointed out how, during Senate testimony last week, the administration officials sent to Capitol Hill to explain their recent actions concerning the sale of the administration of six U.S. ports, including Baltimore’s, had developed a sudden case of selective myopia.

In his Feb. 24 column, Milbank cited the 14-year-old law that requires all sales to state-owned companies,such as the one to Dubai Ports World, that may affect U.S. national security to undergo a 45-day review process. The review, of course, was never done.

Milbank picks up the testimony from there:


Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who wrote the 1992 law, demanded to know “why that investigation was not carried out.”

[Sen. John] Warner [R-Va.] asked Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt to “clarify.”

“Senator,” Kimmitt told Byrd, “we have a difference of opinion on the interpretation of your amendment.” The administration, he said, views it “as being discretionary.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), reading the statute to Kimmitt, said the law “requires—requires—an investigation.”

“We do not see it as mandatory,” Kimmitt repeated.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) grew irritated. “If you want the law changed,” he told Kimmitt, “come to Congress and change it. But don’t ignore it.”

“We didn’t ignore the law,” Kimmitt again maintained. “We might interpret it differently.”


“We do not see it as mandatory”? That’s as close to my “vision problem” as you can get, except it’s not usually advisable to tell a U.S. senator that “we just couldn’t see following your silly little law.”

How, one wonders, does the executive branch of a constitutional democracy get away with telling lawmakers that it doesn’t feel like being bound by duly enacted and fairly easy to understand laws? It is an act of breathtaking arrogance and gall from an administration that has frankly displayed no shortage of either commodity since George W. Bush first came into office in 2001 claiming that “we will show purpose without arrogance.”

On Feb. 23, Milbank examined the former Justice Department attorney-turned-college professor John Yoo, who authored some of the Bush administration’s most controversial legal opinions.

It was Yoo whose writings said that the administration could mistreat foreign prisoners up to the point of death and not call it torture. Yoo was the one who argued that the administration could conduct domestic wiretapping via mass data gathering from the National Security Agency, and last week, at the Heritage Foundation, it was Yoo who stated the mind-blowing belief that Congress’ sole ability to declare war under the Constitution was some creation of the “popular imagination.”

This is pretty stunning, especially since it’s pretty easy to look up the text of the Constitution, and there it is, in plain English, 11 clauses into Section 8 of Article I: “The Congress shall have the power . . . To declare War.”

But Yoo once again parses words within an inch of their lives, saying, as quoted by Milbank, “Note that the declare-war clause uses the word ‘declare.’ It doesn’t use the word ‘begin,’ ‘make,’ ‘authorize,’ ‘wage’ or ‘commence’ war.” These are the ideas of someone who believes that because the president is the “commander in chief,” then the president suddenly has the powers of a king in wartime and that the other two branches of government are subservient. And why is this? Because they see it that way.

The sad part about all of this is that the only reason Bush gets away with these awe-inspiring leaps of fancy into a world where the Constitution means whatever he feels it means is because Congress has simply abrogated its power of oversight of the executive branch.

And if the Dubai port deal goes through as scheduled, there’s a pretty good chance that once again it will be because the Congress just couldn’t see doing its job.

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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