Where Do I Sign?

Expecting consistency from left-wing political activists is folly, but rarely does one get such a glaring example as the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen on presidential “signing statements.” Watch, and your head will spin.
During the Bush years, liberal commentators suddenly discovered that they didn’t like the longstanding practice of “signing statements” by which the President offered his own interpretation of legislation he was signing, in some cases declaring his intention to ignore unconstitutional provisions. Now, in a better world, presidents would just veto laws containing unconstitutional things – this was, in fact, perhaps the most frequent basis on which presidents used the veto power in the 19th Century – but the use of signing statements to set forth a public defense of Executive Branch prerogatives has a long and bipartisan history, and there is a quite respectable argument that such statements preserve the President’s role as head of a co-equal branch of government with as much right to his interpretation of the Constitution as Congress or the Supreme Court.
Anyway, Steve Benen was one of the liberal bloggers who pushed the anti-signing-statements hysteria without consideration that there was any argument for defending the practice whatsoever:

July 3, 2007:

MAKING A STATEMENT….Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has caved to White House demands on a wide variety of issues, but when it comes to presidential signing statements, the Pennsylvania senator has actually been pretty good. A year ago, he even tried to introduce legislation that would allow Congress to sue the president over his use of these legally dubious documents. He asked at the time, “What’s the point of having a statute if … the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn’t like? … If he doesn’t like the bill, let him veto it.”

We have a bizarre dynamic at play: Congress passes bills, Bush signs the bills into law, and then, in several instances, after the president issues signing statements, the Bush administration decides not to do what the law mandates.

Specter added, “If the president is permitted to rewrite the bills that Congress passes and cherry-pick which provisions he likes and does not like, he subverts the constitutional process designed by our framers.”
To which the White House apparently responded, “Duh.”

October 15, 2008:

REMEMBER SIGNING STATEMENTS?…. There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the end of Bush’s presidency, but I’m especially pleased at the prospect of having a president who won’t sign bills into law, only to announce soon after which parts of the law he plans to ignore.

March 9, 2009:

SIGNING STATEMENTS…. It’s hard to know where to start when detailing George W. Bush’s assaults on constitutional norms, but near the top of any list would have to be his signing statements. The former president used them to give laws passed by Congress a little “touch up,” explaining which parts of the law he didn’t like, which parts he’d ignore, etc.

Today, President Obama issued a message to administration officials regarding Bush’s signing statements: feel free to ignore them.

But even at the outset of the Obama Administration, Benen was suddenly untroubled by the idea that Obama was going to use signing statements for the same basic purpose:

Obama said he would consider using signing statements as president, but would take a modest approach, and limit them to bills that include provisions of dubious constitutionality.

Which brings us to…
June 20, 2011, “Taking a hatchet to presidential power

Also note, the same day as this letter about recesses, House Republicans also began pushing a measure to prevent the president from issuing “signing statements” – another power presidents have been using for generations.

What I find remarkable about all of this is comparing the seriousness of the times and the severity of the GOP’s restrictions. In effect, President Obama is being told, “You have to fix the economy, win several wars, fix the housing crisis, respond to disasters, improve American energy policy, and keep the country safe, all while being fiscally responsible. But you can’t have a full team in place; you can’t enjoy the same powers your predecessors did; you can’t use the same tools your predecessors used; and you can’t expect the Senate to function by majority rule the way it used to. Good luck.”
This is no way to run an advanced democracy in the 21st century.

Good thing President Bush wasn’t expected to solve any difficult problems, never had his appointees bottled up in the Senate, and never had anybody try to stop him from using longstanding presidential powers like signing statements! Because Steve Benen would have been there to tell them off!

20 thoughts on “Where Do I Sign?”

  1. I told you these guys were hypocrites years ago, but you were too busy ridiculing big government while supporting the President’s program to spy on citizens without a warrant to notice.

  2. That’s one of the funnier Bertos above.
    “I absolve myself of Benen’s sins and clumsily change the topic.”

  3. You nailed Benen. Nice work.
    But, don’t think for a minute that rank hypocrisy and “intellectual” inconsistency for the sake of making a political point is the province of one side only.

  4. Crank,
    I was curious how, if at all, Benan would respond. I turns out that he was not being hypocritcal, you just needed to think this through a little more. At least, that is what Benan’s response claims:
    I posted a comment under his response saying, in effect, that you had printed excerpts of his previous columns on Bush’s signing statements and Obama’s, and that the statements were inconsistent. Then I wrote that he should admit it and move on. I didn’t include any profanity, or even any snark. The comment was deleted in less than 20 minutes.

  5. The Washington Monthly was once a good publication, known for doing real analytical journalism and willing to take on the “left.”
    Benen’s response and the chorus of comments is sad. Benen’s response reads exactly like a Red State blogger caught in journalistic fraud and the comments like the sycophantic wing nuts. The Monthly should be better than that.

  6. sponge,
    The word is “hypocrisy”. I understand multiple syllable words are hard for you to understand, but you could look it up in a Dictionary or ask a grown-up to explain it to you. Then you might have a chance at keeping up with the discussion.
    Your welcome.

  7. Daryl, that article pretty much describes politics in general. You don’t think the democrats do that when they have a split on an issue, and there is a republican president?
    More worrying is that debate among Republicans about foreign policy will be stifled because of fear of the “isolationist” label. As much as I respect McCain, he’s really out-of-line here. The main reason I didn’t vote for him was fear that he would not be judicious about where he committed the US military, and his recent statements confirmed my fears.

  8. Isn’t it interesting how, whenever there is a major Democratic victory, things become silent here? A tale of two states: New Jersey, where Christie bullies his way to get one part of what he needs (pension reform, especially since New Jersey for many years didn’t appropriately fund it, so they are indeed screwed). And New York. where Andrew Cuomo committed himself to getting a budget, reforming the civil service system (without the bullying), gay marriage, while, unlike Christie, did give in on a few things, like a property tax cap.
    In the end, Cuomo managed to govern the ungovernable, making everyone part of the problem and solution. He got everything he wanted, and much of what the state needed, no matter how painful. His approval ratings are insanely high, with little in the way of disapproval. Christie got one thing at a high cost.
    In other words, Cuomo reached for the sky and got it. Christie will, as usual, reach for the donuts.

  9. So a Democrat in a Democrat state succeeds in getting reform and he is a master politician. A Republican in a Democrat state gets reform and he is a “bully.”
    You people are truly incapable of looking at yourselves honestly, aren’t you? I mean, who could type that drivel without questioning their own premise? A lefty, that’s who.

  10. Sponge, you are clearly unfamiliar with New York politics. Sheldon Silver runs the State Assembly with the care of a feudal lord (only that is being nice to him). To convince Silver and the Senate, slightly republican controlled in so many things is an amazing feat. And he got givebacks from the unions too. Yes it is a big deal.
    I am the first to agree with Christie that pension reform in New Jersey was a major priority. Mainly due to New Jersey’s total inability through so many administrations to actually fund the pensions they said they would. But there are better ways than the manner in which he did it. It isn’t really a competent thing to isolate so many people in local governments so quickly. Cuomo managed to actually get things done. A budget in New York? Early? It’s almost ground breaking.
    Interesting how you make “a lefty” sound pejorative. You rightwingnuts are liars from the start. You are big on keeping government out, uh, until you don’t get your way. Same sex marriage passes in New York? What is the cry? A constitutional amendment to get the same government you despise back in the bedroom. We have a deficit? Do we dare tax people a fraction of what they were in the “golden age 1950s?” Do we have a short term debt ceiling issue in this country. Sure do. What is the GOP answer? Throw a tantrum and storm out.

  11. Where is Crank?
    Hiding in his bunker defending heterosexual marriage from this violent attack of democracy?

  12. Magrooder, in many ways, it’s the abortion on the state level issue all over again. Even as someone pro-choice as I am, I always prefer things be adjudicated at the state level. Because we are so diverse. It’s our strength. Europe has no clue what they are in for, because they think by signing a few treaties they will be one. Until they actually have to pay for it. Like now with Greece. And that is an easy one.
    So, unlike say, Iowa, where a court decided it (and too bad really), here in NY, with some normal horse trading, the civil rights for all (except for polygamists I guess) have been secured. By state representatives. And the first hiccup by Bachman and the Teabaggers, who decry abortion being permitted by court fiat instead of making its way through legislatures? Demand the constitution be changed. What’s next? Allowing the Peculiar Insititution?

  13. Given recent events in NY, saying that you are coming back to get engaged might get misinterpreted.

  14. Incidentally, let’s not forget about Connecticut – the dem governor here still does not have a successful budget nor has he been able to wring concessions from the unions without threatening layoffs, which now look certain. Of course, the blame falls squarely on the unions in Connecticut, who will likely reject what any objective observer would call a great deal for them.

  15. Anyone who thinks an amendment to the Constitution is contrary to principles of federalism is woefully misinformed. Amendments must be ratified by the states. They are ultimately by definition a state issue. There is no inconsistency with stating that gay marriage should be a state issue but that a constitutional amendment is needed. There is a tension with the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution that requires states opposed to gay marriage to recognize one should the legislative action of another state allow it. A constitutonal amendment could provide that no state is required to recognize marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman – thus allowing states that pass gay marriage to have them while allowing states opposed to gay marriage to not have to recognize it. Such an amendment would keep the issue at the state level for the states to decide. There is no inconsistency.

  16. tanstaaf, is that really fair enough? I mean, how many states in, say, 1962, would have passed an Amendment saying the same thing concerning interracial marriages? The prejudice toward same sex marriage is firmly rooted in religious beliefs, and when that hits, the First Amendment trumps it. You, uh, do believe in that one don’t you?
    And MVH, no question, the governor there did a good job in getting the union leadership to agree, but not the rank and file, meaning, and here I do blame the unions, they screwed the pooch. But they voted and thousands are out of a job. Remember, common sense isn’t.

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