Typically behind the times politically I had been hearing some rumblings lately about a couple buzzwords you may have heard, the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power and President Bush’s practice of issuing “signing statements” when he signs bills into law. (I have to thank in part Diane Rehm’s Feb. 7th show) Some simple googling turned up this article which is a good overview of what these concepts are about, by some lefty writer named Jennifer Van Bergen. Here’s the deal on those statements, according to her:
President Bush has used presidential signing statements more than any previous president. From President Monroe’s administration (1817-25) to the Carter administration (1977-81), the executive branch issued a total of 75 signing statements to protect presidential prerogatives. From Reagan’s administration through Clinton’s, the total number of signing statements ever issued, by all presidents, rose to a total 322.
In striking contrast to his predecessors, President Bush issued at least 435 signing statements in his first term alone. And, in these statements and in his executive orders, Bush used the term “unitary executive” 95 times. It is important, therefore, to understand what this doctrine means.
Turns out the idea is that each branch of government has the power to interpret the Constitution as they will. (As opposed to, you know, that little idea of judicial review.) The author goes on to whip out this great quote from James Madison’s federalist paper No. 47:
The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
Now, with all this stuff combined with Bush’s budget that even his supporters admit will produce, at best, decreasing deficits (all adding into the spiraling national debt), isn’t he going a bit far here? I mean, I expected some typical conservative stuff out of him and even perhaps an ill-advised foreign war, but not monarchist tendances.