The Man in Cheney’s Shadow and Unilateral Executive Action

David Addington, Mr. Cheney’s consigliere and chief of staff, has kept a low profile while shaping much of the Bush Administration’s terrorism policies. While others such as John Yoo have gained notoriety for their legal opinions and theories, Mr. Addington has largely kept to the shadows, at least until now. With the publishing of his book, “The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration,” Jack Goldsmith appears to be exposing Mr. Addington’s role over the past six years. Mr. Goldsmith headed the Office of Legal Counsel for ten months in 2003 and 2004 before resigning, largely because of clashes with Mr. Addington.

In an excerpt from his book, Mr. Goldsmith writes:

Addington once expressed his general attitude toward accommodation when he said, “We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop.” He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.

The legal minds behind the Bush presidency and its unparalleled grab for power believe that the executive, at least in the hands of Mr. Bush, should be without limits on its power. Cooperation, bipartisanship, even healthy debate are seen as weaknesses to be squelched under foot. This is not an open democratic government, this is a cabal of “trusted advisers” who believe their power should be limitless. They also probably believe themselves to be infallible.

This same attitude dominates most of the Bush Administration’s actions. Yesterday, Mr. Bush nominated E. Duncan Getchell, Jr. for a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senators from Virginia, Republican John Warner and Democrat Jim Webb, had submitted a list of five potential nominees after interviewing a wide variety of people. Mr. Getchell was not on the list.

The Bush Administration acts unilaterally and sees any departure from that behavior as weakness. It is important to keep in mind that when Mr. Bush speaks of “bipartisanship” he really means having members of both parties sign off on the decision he, or someone close to him, has already made. The Bush Administration does not believe in democratic government; it believes in power. The chinks in the armor that are starting to show the internal workings of the administration need to be widened so daylight can shine in. Only then will we be able to start to address the grave injuries the Bush Administration has inflicted on our government.

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