No Comment — July 26, 2007, 5:25 pm

Return of the Reaganites

This really is something. Not just the piece by Kelley and Turner. I just meandered my way through the Financial Times and, after reading the plans of my always hilarious Tory friend Boris Johnson to run for mayor of London, I stumble across an equally amazing piece by Bruce Fein, the former number two in the Reagan Justice Department, drawing a broad assessment of the Bush-Cheney regime.

In his recent interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, Fein said that the grounds now accumulated for a bill of impeachment against Bush were far more serious than those which had been mustered against Bill Clinton… he favored the impeachment of Clinton, of course. But he pulled back before making the logical next statements. And here they are in the FT:

To borrow from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, upon what meat doth this our vice-president, Dick Cheney, feed that he has grown so great? Mr. Cheney’s imperial vice-presidency has trampled the conservative constitutional philosophy of the Founding Fathers. He has used the law to evade checks and balances. For example, he declared himself part of the legislative branch – as president of the US Senate – to exempt his office from President George W. Bush’s order governing classified information. But days later he draped himself in the mantle of the presidency to defend the confidentiality of vice-presidential communications and claim immunity from suit for any constitutional violations.

The constitution entrusts the vice-president with a single puny chore: to preside over the Senate, without a vote except to break ties. Occupants of the vice-presidency have bewailed its insignificance. Their typical tasks have been handing out blankets after earthquakes and attending state funerals. Presidents have been characteristically jealous of their constitutional turf.

Mr. Bush is a monumental exception. He entered politics not because of philosophical conviction or even a raw desire for power, but for a lack of anything better to do. His policies fluctuate like a human weather vane. Mr. Bush eagerly agreed to Mr. Cheney’s tacit demand that the lion’s share of the presidency be outsourced to the vice-president’s office. Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney craves unchecked power. The Founding Fathers were suspicious of the likes of Mr. Cheney. They believed that since men were not angels, checks and balances through a separation of powers were indispensable to frustrating both tyranny and folly. Congress, the president and the Supreme Court were expected to police one another. The makers of the constitution believed that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Accordingly, Congress was crowned with authority to oversee the executive branch for lawlessness or maladministration by examining presidential communications . . .

Congress is too timid and constitutionally illiterate to be awakened to the need to impeach Mr. Cheney for his acts against the nation. Like old soldiers, he will simply fade away after the expiry of his term, but probably in disrepute. Whether any of the Cheney doctrine will survive is uncertain. The events of September 11, 2001 are still distorting the judgements of many Americans and office-holders.

Fein is right on each of these assessments. And his concluding statement I think is intended as a provocation. It’s time to see if this Congress has the backbone that the Founding Fathers expected a Congress to have. Today the Congress has a clear and specific mission: to lasso the errant presidency and drag it, kicking and screaming if necessary, back to the space that the Constitution intended it to occupy. Its tool in achieving this mission are limited, and impeachment is one that must be considered. Congress faces a foe that regales itself over Congress’s lack of resolve and continuous hesitation. Soon we’ll see whether President Cheney’s contempt is justified.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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