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Column: Bush's Lawless Legacy Will Outlast His Presidency

This story was written by Justyn Dillingham, Arizona Daily Wildcat


The air of relief at George W. Bush's impending departure from the presidency is so palpable that it seems churlish not to join in the imminent celebrations.

After all, when Bush walks out the White House doors on Jan. 20 and passes out of our lives forever, most of the country will rush to forget about him. His own party shuns him, eschews any mention of his name, declines even to defend policies of his that have become unpopular. The people as a whole openly loathe him. The press no longer pays much attention to him.

All this might deceive some observers into assuming that Bush ultimately did little harm to the country - nothing that the next president can't clean up, at least. Unfortunately, one aspect of Bush's legacy will linger long after his speeches are forgotten and his countenance is nothing but a dim memory, and the Democratic Party was entirely complicit in it.

So many scandals have engulfed Bush since his re-election in 2004 that Americans might be forgiven for failing to instantly recall the worst one. That was the New York Times's revelation, in December 2005, that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans without a warrant.

Notably, Bush did not respond by denying the accusations or even ignoring them. Instead, he acknowledged the wiretapping program's existence and insisted that it was "fully consistent" with his "constitutional responsibilities and authorities."

An important distinction has to be made here, since most pundits declined to make it. This isn't merely a matter of legislation that violates civil liberties, like the 2001 Patriot Act or the 2006 Military Commissions Act. Those are laws, after all, and they can be changed.

This is a matter of a president openly proclaiming his right to ignore the law whenever he deems it necessary. In essence, Bush was declaring his right to violate the law whenever he saw fit.

Subsequently, the Boston Globe revealed that Bush had defied more than 750 laws by quietly rewriting them in order to bring them into line with his personal interpretation of the president's powers. For all the talk of presidential "wartime powers," no other president in our history has responded to the considerable pressures of war by claiming the right to rewrite laws at will.

Since 2005, Congress has been faced with a clear choice. Never in our history - even during the Nixon administration -had any president so blatantly and purposefully failed to carry out his sworn oath to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Congress's duty was clear -and it shirked that duty.

Outraged at the Republicans' blatant betrayal of their own deepest principles - which certainly meant "strict construction" of the Constitution if they meant anything -Americans marched to the polls in November 2006 and overwhelmingly voted for a Democratic Congress. It did them no good.

The new House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, sternly informed the country that impeachment was "off the table." Why? Because Democrats "are not about getting even," she piously declared, as if violating the Constitution were on par with stealing someone's lunch on the playground.

"If somebody had a crime that the president had committed, that would be a different story," Pelosi explained in July 2008. That was a truly dishonest answer; impeachment means putting a public official on trial. It carries no automatic implication of guilt.

If popular government means anything, it means that no man stands above the law,least of all the president.

Democratic leaders consistently failed to hold the president to any standards at all, besides the most routine political ones. They accused him of bad olicies, not criminal policies. They insisted that what the country needed was more "bipartisanship," as if party collusion, and not vigorous debate, were the highest of all political virtues in a democratic republic.

The Democrats continued that dishonest tactic during the presidential race. During the campaign, Democratic leaders overwhelmingly insisted that what Americans cared about was not the Constitution. Americans didn't care that their president had broken the law. All they cared about was "the economy," Democrats insisted. "Prosperity." "Jobs." Americans cared about everything except what Democrats found it inconvenient for them to care about, evidently.

That's why there's nothing - or very little, at least -to celebrate about Bush's departure. He not only violated his oath of office, he got away with it. And a Democratic Congress ensured that, one day, we'll see his like again. Having seen a president get away with rewriting the laws of the land, what future president would be able to resist the temptation? That is the foulest legacy of these dark years.

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