American Disgrace

I am afraid I am not incredibly versed on the way the American political system works. However, I do know that there is an issue with Bush having presidential status, but both the congress and senate being Democratic majorities currently. That’s the simple background to the speculation that there will be a deadline set for a withdrawal in Iraq.

Well, the most recent development I have seen is an out-and-out refusal of Bush to accept these rumours found here. The piece pretty much says it all in the title… Bush has actually stated he will Vito.

Now, I don’t know much about the system, as I said, but I imagine that the use of Vito power is generally pretty frowned upon, similarly (although not nearly to the same extent) as it once was when the Queen was able to Vito Canadian decisions. While it is allowed, I don’t think I can recall there being commentary on it in the American system recently, so either it hasn’t happened, or they take it very lightly, which I find hard to believe.

Why do I doubt it? Because it seems to me that, even though the American people elected Bush in, that his decision to Vito something of that caliber would be fairly anti-democratic of him. The choice by the people to bring in Democrats in both other houses (is Bush a house?) seems a clear move away from the Republicans and supporting the Iraq war. Now, I am tempted to say let them suffer the consequences of having re-elected the man, but I see a larger issue here. Issues have been approached in political science class and in some of the blogs (such as my father’s)about certain policies of the US that are fairly anti-democratic. The US imperialism is a widespread complaint in the university right now. Issues such as civilian casualties, torture (the one covered by dad), and even policing in the States have come up as ways the US abuses its power in the modern world. But somehow, the direct refusal to acknowledge what the citizens of the country that he is directly sovereign over seems to contradict the values of democracy at a whole other level. To see that Bush would go so far as to blatantly refuse to acknowledge that there is a lack of support for the war suggests to me that the imperialism in his own country is as out of hand as elsewhere in the world, and that is a frightening thought.

I am not debating the Iraq war here. I think the war is wrong, but I do not necessarily think that it is a wise decision to pull out ASAP, because civil war will certainly break out and Iraq will be in news headlines for a long time to come. But regardless of the decision’s validity at a practical level, the truth is that Bush is countering all of the values he claims to be “protecting” in other countries. Once again, that is open to debate whether he is or is not actually seeking democracy (I tend to think Bush thinks of that ideal like the Europeans used to think of the “White Man’s Burden”), but clearly he is no longer practicing it, either out of blatant disregard for the ideals he claims to uphold, or because he is desperate to preserve a situation that has gotten far out of hand.

It’s really a pity, too, since he could actually collaborate with the two houses in order to come to some sort of quasi-solution that compromises between his needs and the citizens’. Instead, he is so obsessed with his war that he fails to recognize how much harm he is causing on the home front.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. blackberry guy
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 13:43:00

    You make an interesting comparison between the President’s veto power and the Queen’s disallowance power. (Note the spelling of “veto”, btw; and it isn’t usually capitalized.)

    Americans sometimes poke fun at Canada because we’re a monarchy. Actually, we are primarily a parliamentary democracy, like England and other countries in the commonwealth.

    Parliamentary democracy “means that our political system is based on the idea that Parliament is supreme, or sovereign.”

    Note “Parliament” — not the Prime Minister.

    In the American system the President wields a lot more power. However, Congress still has the last word:

    If the president vetoes a bill, Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    Is the veto power undemocratic? Not necessarily. This is why Americans vote directly for their President (whereas Canadians do not vote directly for their Prime Minister). The President wields extraordinary power, but he is directly elected.

    Still, it’s paradoxical that the Canadian seems less democratic on its face (because we have a Monarch) but the American system is arguably less democratic in practice (because veto power is vested in a single individual).

    You sent me off doing a little research, and it turns out that President Bush’s use of his “signing statement” authority is more controversial than his use of the veto power. He hadn’t used the veto as of April 30, 2006, according to the Boston Globe:

    Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton used the presidential veto instead of the signing statement if they had a serious problem with a bill, giving Congress a chance to override their decisions.

    But the current President Bush has abandoned the veto entirely …. [But, by means of signing statements] in just five years, Bush has challenged more than 750 new laws, by far a record for any president, while becoming the first president since Thomas Jefferson to stay so long in office without issuing a veto.

    [He finally vetoed a bill in July 2006.]

    I guess the signing statement allows Bush to approve a new law while reserving his right, as President, to disregard portions of the law at his discretion.

    This is worse than the veto, it seems to me, because it is so secretive. If the President vetos a law, that’s a public act. If he passes a law but appends a signing statement, he can then disregard it without anyone knowing he has done so.

    Now that’s a real problem for democracy!


  2. Knotwurth Mentioning
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 14:20:00

    Ah. The “Vito” would only let me write it capitalized. Told me it wasn’t a word otherwise, so I assumed it was a technical term that was considered a “proper” word or some such. Now that I know it’s a misspelling, I can write veto! YAY!

    And as for the signing statement issue, that would be an exemplary example of my lack of knowledge about the US system. Everything you write about the Canadian system, I knew quite well. Note I always specified “used to be” when talking about the Queen’s rights to “veto”, although thanks for the clarification of the terminology. Up until the King/Byng controversy, there was more power vested in the monarchy, and I believe the British Parliament as well. Was it not up until the Second World War that the British dictated where and when we went to war?

    Certainly I don’t disagree that there is a democratic component to the veto power, but the fact that he was elected but is no longer in favour perhaps suggests they need revision to keep their presidents accountable? I know the political systems in the States are virtually sacred, so that comment would probably stir up a lot of trouble, but to me the two other houses being Democrats (Democratic? Not sure if that’s the right term here, either, since democratic suggests something else entirely!) suggests that he should have to consider public opinion a bit more than he seems to be. Glad to see that they can vote down the veto, though. That reassures me incredibly, even while your other notion (of signing statement) brings up a whole other issue that basically nullifies that hope!

    I will be learning more about the American system today, in fact, so this will be a good chance to get to understand the basics a bit better, at least!


  3. Jack's Shack
    Mar 30, 2007 @ 15:43:00

    Every US president has the power to veto bills. The system here is one of checks and balances.

    There are three branches of government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. A simple breakdown of these items can be found here.


  4. blackberry guy
    Mar 30, 2007 @ 18:41:00

    I had no idea about the signing power myself, until very recently. I had read about the controversy, but it was pretty meaningless to me until I did that bit of research on President Bush’s use of the veto. Learn something new every day!


  5. Knotwurth Mentioning
    Mar 30, 2007 @ 21:48:00

    Actually, I just got a breakdown of it in Political Studies class yesterday, thank you Jack! 🙂

    I now better understand the way the system works, and the theory behind it. I won’t pretend I know every nuance, and I guess being from a parliamentary system instead of a presidential one still makes it seem like the single individual having so much power vested in him is unusual, but certainly I can see a need for checks on the other groups. It’s one of the reasons I support a reform of the Canadian Senate… it’s a joke in Canada about how useless the “upper house” is, and I think that to have it be far more democratic and actually useful would be valuable, especially considering the electoralism that goes on in the parliamentary system. Some accountability would be nice!

    Signing power is still a mystery to me. That wasn’t at all a major topic in my class.


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