Why Should the Administration Follow the Law?

Talking Points Memo has a letter from Patrick Leahy to Alberto Gonzalez:

You did not appear before the Committee or produce any documents and you have provided no explanation for your failure to do so. Today at 2 p.m. was the return date and time for you to appear before the Committee and bring with you the documents compelled by the Judiciary Committee’s May 2 subpoena.

The Administration has ignored laws before, and has said that it would ignore various subpoenas in the past. Some of the recent evidence that members of the Executive have provided to Congress, even under oath, seems to be at least less than truthful and might even be considered perjury should someone be interested in prosecuting. And here we have an example of a subpoena by Congress simply being ignored.

In each case, the explanation tends to be something that in plain English amounts to: “The Administration feels that complying with this will unconstitutionally interfere with the powers of the executive” or “The Administration feels that compling with this will hurt the country in the war on terror.”

What stops GW from doing this any time he feels like it from now on? For instance, if November 2008 comes around and the American public elects a “surrendocrat” as President, what keeps GW from simply refusing to step down on the grounds that doing so will embolden Osama?

In the end, there is nothing to compel compliance except the fragile thread that is democratic tradition and Will. Congress’ failure to exert any oversight for the past few years has frayed the democratic thread to the snapping point. And what is the Will that is left? That is the Will of someone who would retain power beyond the limits of the Constitution, the Will of those whose support he/she would need, and the Will of the people to oppose him/her.

I hasten to add… I don’t think we’re in any danger of that happening. Even if the thought occurred to him to behave in such a way, GW seems to be more or less demoralized. Why would he want to cling to power beyond January 2009 if that means he’d still have to find the solution to Iraq and Afghanistan that has eluded him so far? Those who would have to support him – well, GW does have his supporters.

Thomas Sowell and his ilk might support GW becoming a dictator, but I don’t see the military or the rest of the security apparatus going along at this point. As to the people… I don’t think they enter into the calculation at all. If GW did feel like it, and the military/security apparatus did go along with it, tens of thousands of marchers here and there would make no difference.

But what worries me is that just because GW is incompetent, demoralized, and lacking in support by any except the most irrational 28% by the end of his term doesn’t mean the next guy to push the envelope will be. The time for “we the people” to have agitated was before the precedent was set. Now, what is left is the Will of the President and the Will of those who would have to support him.