Self-satire scales new heights

President Bush delivers a lecture on the importance of separation of powers, checks and balances, and the sacred Constitution.

Published November 16, 2007 3:07PM (EST)

(updated below)

It's genuinely hard to believe that the writers of George Bush's speech last night to the Federalist Society weren't knowingly satirizing him. They actually had him say this:

When the Founders drafted the Constitution, they had a clear understanding of tyranny. They also had a clear idea about how to prevent it from ever taking root in America. Their solution was to separate the government's powers into three co-equal branches: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Each of these branches plays a vital role in our free society. Each serves as a check on the others. And to preserve our liberty, each must meet its responsibilities -- and resist the temptation to encroach on the powers the Constitution accords to others.

Then they went even further and this came out:

The President's oath of office commits him to do his best to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." I take these words seriously. I believe these words mean what they say.

To top it all off -- by which point they must have been cackling uncontrollably -- they had him say this:

Others take a different view. . . . They forgot that our Constitution lives because we respect it enough to adhere to its words. (Applause.) Ours is the oldest written Constitution in the world. It is the foundation of America's experiment in self-government. And it will continue to live only so long as we continue to recognize its wisdom and division of authority.

Here is the still-valid and binding September 25, 2001 Memorandum, written by then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, concerning Bush's view of his own power:

In both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution, Congress has recognized the President's authority to use force in circumstances such as those created by the September 11 incidents. Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the President's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.

That Memorandum also "conclude[d] that the Constitution vests the President with the plenary authority, as Commander in Chief and the sole organ of the Nation in its foreign relations, to use military force abroad" and hailed "the President's inherent constitutional powers to use military force" free of Congressional interference. It declared "the centralization of authority in the President alone . . . in matters of national defense, war, and foreign policy." And while the powers of Congress are virtually non-existent, "congressional concurrence is welcome." Thus:

The President's broad constitutional power to use military force to defend the Nation. . . would allow the President to take whatever actions he deems appropriate to pre-empt or respond to terrorist threats from new quarters.

And when the Gonzales-led Justice Department issued a 42-page single-spaced Memorandum in 2006 justifying the President's decision to spy on Americans in violation of our "laws," it was explained to us that the President is the "sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs"; that "the President has independent authority to repel aggressive acts by third parties even without specific congressional authorization, and courts may not review the level of force selected"; and that statutes restricting the President's actions relating to war "could probably be read as simply providing 'a recommendation' that the President could decline to follow at his discretion." [That letter is here (.pdf)].

These are the still-valid premises that led the Constitution-revering George W. Bush to spend the last six years ignoring and violating statutes whenever he wanted to, keeping Congress completely in the dark about what he was doing, and issuing one signing statement after the next explaining why he has no obligation to comply with what Congress adorably calls their "laws."

Tonight the President will give a speech warning of the evils of torture. Tomorrow night he will speak out against the immorality of deficit spending. And on Sunday he will vigorously condemn those who preemptively attack other countries. Then, next week, Rudy Giuliani -- with his his ex-mistress (and now-third-wife) in the other room -- will explain how vital it is to protect the sanctity of marriage. Oh, wait -- that was last month.

UPDATE: I should really know better than to try to satirize the Bush administration. No matter how far you go, no matter how absurd of a caricature you depict, they always manage to surpass it. From earlier this week: "President Bush, delivering another budget veto to a Democratic-led Congress whose spending he calls out-of-control, accuses leaders of "acting like a teenager with a new credit card" (h/t Kitt).

From McClatchy last month:

George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he's arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ. . . .

Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors. . . ."He has presided over massive increases in almost every category . . . . a dramatic change of pace from most previous presidents," said [Stephen] Slivinski, [the director of budget studies at Cato Institute].

The same hilarious speechwriters who wrote last night's Constitution-revering speech must have written the righteous line about Congress acting like a "teenager with a new credit card."

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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