Monday, June 25, 2007
Devils Advocate Or Devils Idiot?
I also read the transcript of today's press conference with White House spokes toady Dana Perino, and she spent the entire time dancing around the Vice President's recent argument that his office was not a part of the executive branch.
The WAPO story and today's presser may only seem to be connected due to the focus of each being Cheney. But a closer look at the stories serves to show a striking similarity as you read along. In both cases the Vice President stakes out positions which those who must argue for him find very difficult if not impossible to sustain.
Here are some examples from the WAPO story:
In the summer and fall of 2002, some of the Bush administration's leading lawyers began to warn that Cheney and his Pentagon allies had set the government on a path for defeat in court. As the judicial branch took up challenges to the president's assertion of wartime power, Justice Department lawyers increasingly found themselves defending what they believed to be losing positions -- directed by the vice president and his staff.Thus we see Cheney sending people off to do his bidding who do not believe they have a case, fully expect to lose in court, and plead behind the scenes for changes around the margins in order to make Cheney's wrong headed positions more palatable. Cheney steadfastly insists that his determinations be adhered to, and the logic that is used to defend those policies is routinely demolished when brought to a legal test. The only Cheney policy which is allowed to go uncorrected is that wrought in secret and never challenged because it is not yet known, or can not be proven.
[White House Deputy Counsel Timothy] Flanigan said that [Cheney's counsel David] Addington's personal views leaned more toward [Solicitor General Ted] Olson than against him, but that Addington beat back the proposal to grant detainees access to lawyers, "because that was the position of his client, the vice president."
[White House Associate Counsel Bradford] Berenson told colleagues that the court's swing voter would never accept absolute presidential discretion to declare a U.S. citizen an enemy and lock him up without giving him an opportunity to be represented and heard. Another former Kennedy clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier.
Addington accused Berenson of surrendering executive power on a fool's prophecy about an inscrutable court. Berenson accused Addington of "know-nothingness."
When a U.S. District Court ruled several months later that Padilla had a right to counsel, Cheney's office insisted on sending Olson's deputy, Paul Clement, on what Justice Department lawyers called "a suicide mission": to tell Judge Michael B. Mukasey that he had erred so grossly that he should retract his decision. Mukasey derided the government's "pinched legalism" and added acidly that his order was "not a suggestion or request."
Skip forward to today's press conference and we see more of the same. Poor Dana Perino finds herself the latest lamb fed to the wolves at the behest of the Vice President. The Vice President's office is relying upon hopelessly inane logic to argue that he is not bound by an executive order, saying that his office is not a part of the executive branch by dint of his Senatorial duties. We must believe that Ms. Perino knows this novel argument is indefensible,(how could she not) but it is her lot in life to present the White House line to the press... and since Cheney is actually a part of the executive branch she has to defend him to the best of her abilities. As the entire world hoots and hollers at the stretch Cheney is attempting, and the founding fathers spin like propellers in their graves, Perino takes the stage:
Q Dana, as long as we're talking about branches of government, can you go back to Vice President Cheney again, the argument that he's not part of the executive branch. Does the President believe he's part of the executive branch?Reading this transcript, one can not help but feel embarrassed at the position that Ms. Perino finds herself in. She finds herself having to take a verbal pounding while steadfastly defending the indefensible. I think in her womanly shoes, I probably would have left the room and either burst into tears, or stalked to the Veeps office for a bit of hysterics. Sheesh, am I being sexist or what?!
MS. PERINO: I think that that is an interesting constitutional question, and I think that lots of people can debate it. I think when we were talking about the EO from last week, we've gone over that several times. You probably don't want me to go over it again. But the Vice President -- any Vice President has legislative and executive functions.
Q Dana, for 200-plus years, everybody from civics class on up has had a certain understanding of the way our government works. And this EO clarifies more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship about the way our system works?
MS. PERINO: Maybe it's me, but I think that everyone is making this a little bit more complicated than it needs to be. The President writes an executive order; he says --
Q I'm talking about the part where the Vice President says that there's a question about whether or not he's part of the executive branch.
MS. PERINO: And the point I was trying to make to you before is that I --
Q This really falls into "sky is blue" stuff.
MS. PERINO: For the past two centuries the Senate has provided payment to the Vice President for his duties as a member of the government. I understand that he has roles in both branches. I am -- I don't think that it's as clear-cut as you're trying to make it.
Q That the Vice President of the United States is --
MS. PERINO: I think there is no denying that he has functions in both the legislative and the executive branches. That is a fact.
Q No, he introduced the topic. The Office of the Vice President introduces that into the argument, into the debate; "well, we're not part of the executive branch."
MS. PERINO: I think that that is also a fact -- and as I said to Kelly, I'll see if I can get more from the Vice President's office to see if they -- how they connected the two, or if they did.
Q He can argue he's part of both, but he can't possibly argue that he's part of neither. And it seems like he's saying he's part of neither.
MS. PERINO: Okay, you have me thoroughly confused, as well.
At some point someone has to go to the President with the message that Cheney is freaking nuts and making the rest of the administration look hopelessly idiotic. It's hard to do your job if you've been painted into a box and there is no way to proceed without looking stupid.
How much would someone have to be paid to go to work each day and knowingly take a wrong headed position. To just know that you are wrong, and you look stupid being wrong... but having to do it to protect the boss. I often imagine being discovered: Al Gore bumps across Club Lefty or All Things Democrat and likes the tone of some polemic, and hires me to crank out talking points against his Republican opposition in the 2008 general Pres. election... *sigh*. I'd be doing what I like and paying the bills, working for someone I believed in. What could be better? But then I read stuff like the WAPO story and the press briefing transcript and I wonder if it's really for me. Could I actually get out there and parrot my guy's line day after day, no matter how stupid it made me look? I'd like to think I'd have the self respect to draw the line somewhere before having to argue from my platform that the Veep isn't a part of the executive branch...
I mean playing a bit of devils advocate is one thing. Being an idiot for the devil? That's quite something else.
My friend, Prissy Patriot, interviewed the DC Madam yesterday. DC Madam says Cheney is on her list!
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