Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cheney stiffs the Founding Fathers

Well, it appears that all the political science textbooks got it wrong. It appears that the U.S. Constitution got it wrong. It appears that even the Founding Fathers got it wrong. For several centuries now, we’ve all assumed that the vice-president has been part of the executive branch of government – but now Dick Cheney has set us all straight:

From his secret undisclosed location, he has decreed that, in fact, the vice-president is not part of the executive branch of government. It is tempting to contend that Cheney must be in the last throes of sanity, considering the fact that his primary workplace is located in the Executive Office Building, but maybe he is right and everybody else is wrong, which means that there needs to be a massive attitude adjustment in this country. Maybe he really does have the right to defy the rule of law and operate as he sees fit.

Maybe, for instance, he really does have the right to tell the National Archives to take a hike; after all, the bureaucrats over there seem to think that Cheney is covered by Executive Order 12958, which compels the vice-president to tell the National Archives how his office handles and safeguards classified information. It’s true that the executive order covers any “entity within the executive branch that comes into possession of classified information,” but the hitch, apparently, is that this is a mere executive order. And Dick Cheney says he doesn’t have to comply – in fact, he hasn’t complied for the past four years – because he says his office is not “an entity within the executive branch.”

And if he says he’s right, who’s going to persuade him that he’s wrong? Certainly not his subordinates in the White House. Yesterday, deputy White House secretary Dana Perino took some buckshot in the face as she sought to teach the Cheney civics class. At one point, a reporter asked, “Does the president believe that (Cheney) is part of the executive branch?” And Perino replied, “I think that’s an interesting constitutional question, and I think that lots of people can debate it.” (Actually, the question itself was settled when the Constitution was ratified in 1787, but we’ll get back to that later.)

Reporters tried to reword the inquiry: “What is the White House’s view of the argument the vice president is making on whether or not he’s part of the executive branch?” And she replied, “I’m not opining on it.”

Then they tried another approach. They pointed out – this was a good one – that, back in 2001, when Cheney was fighting attempts by Congress to determine who had attended his secret meetings on energy policy, his whole argument was that he didn’t have to comply…because he was a member of the executive branch. In fact, let’s resurrect Cheney’s actual words at the time: he said that a congressional investigation into his energy task force “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”

Perino was asked how she could square the two Cheney positions. Why should he not be considered a member of the executive branch in 2007 (when that argument apparently suits his interests), after having considered himself a member of the executive branch in 2001 (when that argument apparently suited his interests)?

Perino: “Look, I’m not a legal scholar…I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making.”

So they tried another approach: If Cheney doesn’t deem himself to be a member of the executive branch, “does the White House then believe he should get funding for the vice-president’s office from the legislative branch instead of from the executive branch?” (This was a clever question, since Congress is currently pondering the executive branch budget. President Bush reportedly wants $4.75 million of that budget to be earmarked for Cheney's office.)

Penino's response: “I don’t know.”

Later, the reporters tried again: “You can't give an opinion about whether the Vice President is part of the executive branch or not?”

Penino: “I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that.”

OK, we get it. Cheney is his own fourth branch of government, and Bush won't contest what Cheney decrees. This being the case, there isn’t a moment to lose: all the civics textbooks need to be thrown into the recycling bins. But we can’t stop there. We will need to rewrite the U.S. Constitition, to bring it into compliance with Cheneyspeak.

For instance, Article II, Section I (which deals exclusively with the executive branch) currently states that “the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the vice-president chosen for the same Term, be elected…” But perhaps that language, and all references to the veep as a member of the executive branch, can simply be excised.

Perhaps the Federalist Papers can be rewritten as well, before any high school kids get the wrong idea. Alexander Hamilton is just a dead white guy, what does he know? Back on March 3, 1788, in Paper No. 68, the Founding Fathers’ chief expert on executive power wrote that “the vice president may occasionally become a substitute for the president, in the supreme executive magistracy.” Hamilton rejected an idea, popular at the time, that the Senate should elect one of its own people to serve as vice president; he persuaded his colleagues that the number-two member of the executive branch shall “be chosen in the same manner with the president,” via national election.

But Hamilton is in no position to argue with Cheney, so let’s move on. The next task would be for the U.S. government to rewrite its own websites. This government site states: “The executive branch of the government is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. The president, vice president, department heads (cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies carry out this mission,” but obviously whoever wrote that is clearly in error.

And these errors are apparently endemic. Take, for instance, the official White House website: “…the Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads of the 15 executive departments.” Not only that, the vice president even gets his own web page. What were they thinking?

Unless the Republicans can find a way to oust Cheney from his job, we had better get with the program and cleanse those websites, as well as rewrite American history. The Vice has decreed that it's time to flush all these inconvenient facts down the memory hole. Where’s George Orwell when we need him?