Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Constitutional (and other issue-based) pop quizzes for our presidential wannabes--could this be a campaign innovation whose time has come?


Is everybody else as excited as I am by this new form of (for want of a better term) political street theater being pioneered by that fine writer Rick Perlstein?

I guess I should back up a bit. As I've noted occasionally, to date I consider myself a noncombatant (is there such a thing as an enemy noncombatant?) in the 2008 presidential campaign, if only on the ground that, for Pete's sake, it's still the first half of 2007! Gimme a break!

Perhaps because I've been treating this way-too-early "campaign" basically as background noise--something to be filtered out as best my sensory apparatus can--I haven't found as much charm in Mike Gravel as some other folks apparently have. If I were to be tempted by one of the "other guys," it would probably be Gov. Bill Richardson.

Sure, Gravel has spoken bluntly on some subjects--mostly Iraq--where the more serious candidates tend to tread more lightly. But it's a long way from there to selling himself as presidential timber.

(Please don't come back at me brandishing the infinitely flimsier credentials of, well, all the GOP hopefuls. The fact that this clownpack is the best the Republican Party can come up with says most of what needs to be said about their party. If Gravel were seeking the Republican nomination, he would be a giant among intellectual bobble-head dolls. But that still wouldn't make him presidential material.)

Anyway, Rick Perlstein, blogging from the Take Back America hootenanny in D.C. has an interesting report on Gravel's speech there today. Rick gives our Mike G props for his historic role in making the Pentagon Papers part of the public record, but makes clear that he's not so thrilled with the present-day Mike Gravel.

In his speech, Gravel noted that the Constitution itself isn't a notably democratic document. It seems he has a plan to get around that inconvenient document to bring power back to the people.
Mike Gravel disdains the Constitution. That's fine. A lot of great Americans - including the abolitionists - disdained the Constitution (they pointed out that it was a document that, then, countenanced slavery). And, like many of us, he despises Dick Cheney and George Bush. But here's what I just learned fifteen minutes ago:

Mike Gravel seems to have no idea what's in the Constitution.

I chased Gravel down as he was leaving, shoulder to shoulder with Ralph Nader. It gave me no pleasure to ask him, "Senator, isn't what you just described a 'bill of attainder'?"

I wasn't quite sure I quite got his attention (or perhaps, horrifyingly, he wasn't familiar with the phrase), so I elaborated. "Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution specifies that you can't pass a law to punish things that weren't against the law when the newly invented 'crime' was committed."

(I didn't add that this was the wisest stopgap to tyranny the framers of the Constitution devised - imagine, just imagine, if George W. Bush could suddenly have directed Trent Lott and Tom Delay to invent some ex post facto crime with which to incarcerate some inconvenient political enemy?)

Here's the exchange that ensued:

"Are you a Constitutional expert?"

"No, I'm a journalist."

"Well, Congress can do any goddmaned thing that it wants."

I guess it's sort of a Michael Moore moment--except without Michael Moore, and without cameras rolling, which actually makes it not so much like a Michael Moore moment after all.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but surely Rick is on to something here. Maybe the other candidates ought to take this as a warning that they're subject to ambush-style pop quizzes on How Our American Government Works, and other issues to be determined.

Well, not the Republican candidates. They don't get out so much. Out of range of their handlers, that is.

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At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper!" - GW Bush

Too bad you didn't get that one on tape.

I really like Gravel's approach to this criminal administration, which is to toss them all in the slammer.

But it's irrelevant to talk about whether Gravel makes a good candidate. The plain truth is, he's too old. He does serve the purpose of shaking up the debate, for which I am grateful.

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would help if Pearlstein or other ambush journalists actually knew what the hell they were talking about before they accuse other people of being ignorant. Gravel proposes a law to make it a felony to keep troops in Iraq AFTER the law is passed which avoids attainder and ex post facto issues altogether. Making Pearlstein's question, ipso facto, idiotic.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

(1) I apologize for the suggestion that Rick Perlstein (and his name is "Perlstein," by the way) ambushed Mike Gravel. That was my image. I think what he did would be more properly described as "asking a question."

(2) Thanks for the clarification about what Gravel is proposing.

What Rick heard him to say in his speech today was that he would "introduc[e] legislation to make the President and Vice President felons for what they have done in Iraq."

A commenter on Rick's blog made your point:


Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the bill the former Senator is proposing. The bill would make it a felony to have ground forces in Iraq 120 days after the bill had passed, therefore it would not be eligible as a bill of attainder or violate the Constitution in any way.

Submitted by lastmanstanding on June 19, 2007 - 1:50pm.

Rick responded:

Mr. Gravel could have told me that himself. He did not. He said, "Congress can do whatever the hell it wants."
Submitted by Rick Perlstein on June 19, 2007 - 3:55pm.


At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize to Mr. Perlstein for my misspelling.

On second thought, Gravel's proposal is half-cocked and weird. I mean, the Constitution has a remedy in place to get rid of an out-of-control executive - impeachment.

The president also has immunity from criminal prosecution, and would be able to pardon anyone accused of violating any federal criminal law.

And on second thought, there may be bill of attainder issues with the law, depending on the exact wording. (It can't single out the president and vice president).

I do appreciate Gravel stirring up the pot though.

At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The president also has immunity from criminal prosecution"

Where in the world did you get that crazy idea?

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

me said...

"The president also has immunity from criminal prosecution"

Where in the world did you get that crazy idea?

Well, it's open to debate, actually. Practical question: do you honestly think this set of Supremes would allow such a prosecution? and Do you think the AG's office would even prosecute? Would the FBI make an arrest? The police are part of the Executive branch.

This is all an academic exercise. I would say for policy reasons, a sitting President shouldn't be indictable. Even a bad president. Impeach first, then indict.


At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't very long ago that the SC decided that requiring a sitting president to be subject to a silly politically motivated civil suit was just fine. That was Clinton, when Paula Jones claimed he wiggled his dick at her.

Of course, this is Bush, and this is his Supreme Court. So they might well decide that in this case, committing real, world-shaking crimes involving hundreds of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars is perfectly OK.

Do I sound cynical? Chalk it up to experience.

At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Impeach first, then indict."

You know perfectly well that this Congress doesn't have the guts to do that. (They wouldn't even if it were all Democrats.) So that's the end of that story.

But one single honest prosecutor could indict.


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