Last night, Mr. Bookworm got around to watching a recent Frontline episode called “Cheney’s Law.” Here’s how PBS describes the show:
For three decades Vice President Dick Cheney conducted a secretive, behind-closed-doors campaign to give the president virtually unlimited wartime power. Finally, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Justice Department and the White House made a number of controversial legal decisions. Orchestrated by Cheney and his lawyer David Addington, the department interpreted executive power in an expansive and extraordinary way, granting President George W. Bush the power to detain, interrogate, torture, wiretap and spy — without congressional approval or judicial review.
Now, as the White House appears ready to ignore subpoenas in the investigations over wiretapping and U.S. attorney firings, FRONTLINE examines the battle over the power of the presidency and Cheney’s way of looking at the Constitution.
“The vice president believes that Congress has very few powers to actually constrain the president and the executive branch,” former Justice Department attorney Marty Lederman tells FRONTLINE. “He believes the president should have the final word — indeed the only word — on all matters within the executive branch.”
There’s more but, funnily enough, as to the last sentence, if that’s indeed what Cheney believes, he’s Constitutionally right. It’s a little thing called separation of powers, and it does give the executive the final say over all matters related to the executive. The only limitation occurs when the executive violates the Constitution, not when the Executive does things Congress doesn’t like. If anything, a show with this premise exposes the ignorance and bias of the show’s writers, but since they’re working within a hermetically sealed intellectual space, I’m sure no one is going to point out their fallacies. And that’s not what I wanted to blog about.
The guy who narrates Frontline has what is, to my ears, the most boring voice in television. I’m usually mercifully saved from watching the episodes by the fact that, within minutes, I’m asleep. But, as is so often the case with sleeping before the TV, it’s not a deep sleep. Instead, it’s like riding a wave, going up and down, with deep sleep interspersed with low level wakefulness.
And during each of those waking minutes, the same thing was drummed into my head: those who oppose Cheney and the Neocons are outraged that all those guys had the temerity to take so seriously the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. The opposers clearly want to view these matters as Kerry once did: police matters, with the crime scene encompassing a few thousand, rather than one or two. No big deal. Track down the perpetrators, run ’em through the judicial system, and move on. Yup. That’s how to do it. Cops and robbers stuff, not this silly Armageddon viewpoint. And to them, to these opposers, it just seems ridiculous that Cheney et al are trying to put in place systems that enable the Commander in Chief to try to nip any future attacks in the bud.
Listening to this outrage, outrage that’s certainly not unique to this Frontline episode, I couldn’t help but think of the difference between your average teenager and your average grownup. To the grownup, things such as mortgages, insurance, and other life security matters are of overriding importance. To the teenager in the house, “Dad is, like, so totally stupid, because he’s , you know, like, always sitting at his desk worrying about the bills, you know. So, I’m all, ‘Dude, stop thinking about that. You know, I’m like trying to score some tickets to the Ugly Red Rash concert, and I need, like, oh, $200 dollars. Right?'”
All of which is both amusing and irritating when you’re in the house with the teenager, but remarkably less interesting when the teenagers are trying to run your country.