C&L Book of the Month: Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy
“Charlie Savage’s Takeover reads like a political thriller because it is one: the story of Dick Cheney and his hapless boss pushing the presidency off its constitutional foundation.”
John W. Dean, former Nixon White House Counsel
In Takeover, author Charlie Savage takes us through the steel doors of power to peer over the shoulders of the Bush-Cheney lawyers who secretly devised ways for American presidents to circumvent laws and treaties. He pulls back the iron curtains which hide the political motivations behind Bush's selections for the Supreme Court. He takes us along the road that leads to the current executive branch addiction to secrecy. On the trip, Savage's book gives us clear translations of the Bush-Cheney gang's bizarre radical theories.
For all this we must say thank you, sir.
This is an incredible master work from Charlie Savage, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from the Boston Globe who first brought to our attention the Bush Administration's abuse of so-called signing statements. For that he won himself the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. Thank you, Charlie Savage. Thank you for showing us what intellectual heroism is all about. Thank you for helping us understand our own current political quagmire. Thank you, well, thank you for not giving up when so many of us are burdened with great despair regarding our nation's condition.
Now here are some additional "thank yous" for the upcoming Holiday Season from the folks at Crooks and Liars.
Thank you, George W. Bush.
Thank you, Dick Cheney.
Thank you, Alberto Gonzales.
Thank you, David Addington.
Thank you, Andy Card.
Thank you, Lewis Libby.
Thank you, Condi Rice
Thank you, to the folks in the Office of Legal Counsel.
Thank you, to the entire Bush-Cheney administration.
Thank you for exposing all of the loopholes in our three branch governmental system supposedly protected by insurmountable “checks and balances” and often referred to as the “greatest Democracy on earth.”
Thank you for letting us know that what we thought was set in stone through International Treaties, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a two party system was really held together by baling wire and a gentleman’s agreement never to go too far. Thank you for your nutty theory of the Unitary Executive. Who new? I certainly didn’t. I must have missed that class at the Heritage Foundation back in 1984. The impression I got in both high school and college was that our seemingly flawless system was nearly impervious to outright overt political hijacking.
I mean, didn’t I hear from Woodward and Bernstein on the 25th Anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon that “the system worked?”
Now we’ve learned much since then.
We’ve learned about unanswered congressional subpoenas. Dead end subcommittee investigations. The reversal of the Freedom of Information Act. We’ve learned about secret White House Energy hearings. A war no one can stop. Treasonous outings of CIA agents. Congressional laws nullified through signing statements. We’ve learned of private militias in the streets of New Orleans. Secret presidential executive orders. Suspension of habeas corpus. Wiretapping without warrants. Enemy combatants. We’ve learned a lot in seven short years.
The list goes on and on as we begin to look like a scene from the German film, “The Lives of Others."
Please someone, anyone. Please call it what it is already, I can’t take the pressure. When is it enough? When do we utter the word? When the planes run on time? C’mon. Just say it. You’ll feel better.
Ah, there. Isn’t that better? Now we can talk about our dysfunctional national family. Remember what they teach in recovery. “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
So how do you get from point A to point B? From democracy to fascism?
Naomi Wolf has it down to the same 10 easy steps throughout the history of the 20th Century:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create a gulag.
3. Develop a thug caste.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Dissent equals treason.
10. Suspend the rule of law.
Sound familiar? It should. Elements of it cascade out of our national news on a nightly basis.
So Bush-Cheney et al, I salute you. I salute you for your shear deviousness. I salute you for keeping a cage full of legal monkeys cranking out bullshit legal phrases, not to justify your actions, but merely to have something on paper in case you’re questioned by hall monitors if caught smoking in the boys room.
I salute you personally Dick Cheney for having the unmitigated
gall balls to keep on truckin’ despite numerous heart attacks, negative world opinion, single digit approval ratings, election losses, chief of staff convictions, lawsuits, civilian deaths, infrastructure destruction, military failures, decline of the dollar, and well, total global mayhem.
A salute to you because in the middle of all of the above, you still have the determination, ambition, loyalty and drive to jump on a plane and fly half way around the world to Saudi Arabia simply to kiss some Royal family ass.
History, I believe, will eventually thank you, in an off kilter kind of way of course. I’m sure you’ll be acknowledged for demonstrating the loopholes in the vice-presidency job for instance. But you knew that coming in, didn’t you? That job previously being so innocuous. So innocent. A do-nothing position of federal ribbon cutting. You’ve taught us otherwise. Thank you.
My holiday blessings, Dick Cheney for showing us what happens when you make hard controversial decisions knowing that the legal endgame will be supported by your hunting partner and four former underlings now dressed in black. It's a pleasure to watch you field your position during a game in your home stadium where the playing field is no longer level and yet surprisingly the final score is always the same - 5-4 in your favor.
Thank you again, Dick Cheney for showing us that our protective governmental roof has more holes in it than a Beverly Hills shower head and when you and your friends at Halliburton make it rain, it pours.
Thank you all in the Bush Administration for in a way you have torn back the lace curtain and exposed the Wizard of American Democracy for what he is.
A few of us knew it. Some of us suspected it. Many of us didn’t want to hear it.
You showed us how to steal an election and get it certified by the M&WIB. That was new. We didn’t know we were vulnerable there. Thanks.
You showed us how to cherry pick intelligence, suppress dissent and launch a massive invasion of an unarmed nation. Well, that was an amazing feat my friend. I must hand it to you. The British caught on, but hey, maybe they were impressed as well. After all, they jumped on board knowing full well you were full of shit. But we will learn from you, old wise one, and hopefully we will adjust.
We will go to work on our roof. After all, we are, “ The Greatest Country on Earth.” We have our work cut out for us. So many legal holes to be fixed. Such a porous system of government. Who knew? Thanks again, Mr. Shingle man.
You at home, the average liberal American says the Bush-Cheney gang must have broken the law and should be impeached or prosecuted. Author Charlie Savage will show you otherwise. Savage’s Takeover, will demonstrate to you how the Bush Administration has not broken the laws of the United States. At least not as they and apparently the Congress sees it. Bush-Cheney and friends have merely shown us the loopholes around the laws. Add a little intimidation. A war. Some media control and bingo - an imperial presidency.
Savage takes us back through the erosion of congressional power and the rise of Imperial Presidencies. A slow drip of power upward, from Congress to FDR to Bush forces the reader to say the phrase “Omigod” out loud repeatedly during this 400-page masterwork of historical research and reason.
Part of the devious genius of the Bush-Cheney gang is the overall secrecy they work and breathe through. They don’t debate Unitary Executive Theory. They live it. They don’t abide by the Geneva Convention. They reword it. They don’t admit to torture. They redefine it.
The Bush-Cheney mob uses their own demented logic of evil to keep swimming forward like a starving great white. Since they believe only the president can declare war, (Their lawyers write statements on request telling them so and sometimes they simply sign the statements that are written by Cheney’s chief muscle, David Addington) and a war president has unlimited powers (their lawyers write more statements confirming this), then logically, the president is above the law (also confirmed by the Office of Legal Counsel) in all military and security issues.
Why doesn’t the Democratic Congress do something?
We know the Republican Congress was rank with cronyism and partisan politics, but what do the Democrats have to lose? Clearly, there were/are numerous laws being broken by the Bush-Cheney team. Well, the dirty little secret that both Feinstein and Schumer know (as do other members of Congress) if they dare to admit it, is that no laws have been broken. (There is allot of gray area out there my friends.) Congressional veterans see the legal holes Bush and Cheney have slithered through. They are the open manholes in our system. Loopholes that up until now, with the occasional exception, were kept closed via handshake, wink or nod.
Everyone, well, governmental scholars at least, knew these gaps existed, but no one ever thought they would/could be exploited at this level. Sure, civil liberties have been challenged during wartime. Just ask Japanese- Americans. But this? On so many levels? For almost 8 years? No one has ever had the balls. Until now.
In many ways, it could be said that George Bush served as a political Trojan horse for Cheney and his army of Constitutional crazies. An empty vessel ripe for riding. Presidential power was Cheney’s obsession, not that of George Bush. After all, it was Dick Cheney, the youngest presidential chief of staff who served under the weakest President in modern times – Gerald Ford. It was Dick Cheney who witnessed up close and personal the defanging of his Commander in Chief after that same role had been abused by Ford’s predecessor, Richard M. Nixon.
It was Dick Cheney who vowed to restore the power of the presidency.
It was we who didn’t listen to him. It was we who didn’t take him seriously. We who mocked him. We who laughed madly when Jon Stewart made duck sounds to imitate his vocal style.
Well, we aren’t laughing any longer, are we?
On paper, the only thing that separates us from Stalin, Hitler, Pinochet, Franco and Mussolini is the upcoming election in ’08.
On paper, America is different. We are still special. We are still unique. But as everyone knows, paper burns.
It burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit.
How and if we repair the age old structural damage to our governmental system will be the true challenge for American democracy. Leaving our Constitutional covering without repairs will certainly force us to feel the hard rain to follow. It will also leave a series of festering bullet-like wounds in the nation’s body politic.
Whether our next president is named Edwards, Obama, Clinton or Romney, these holes must be patched. These wounds sutured. These fissures fixed.
Our future depends on it.
Takeover will take your breath away. Hopefully, someday, you’ll get it back.
A screenwriter/producer/journalist based in Hollywood, California, Mark Groubert is the Senior Film and Book Reviewer for CrooksandLiars.com. As a filmmaker he has produced numerous documentaries for HBO. Groubert is also the former editor of National Lampoon Magazine, MTV Magazine and The Weekly World News. In addition, he writes for the L.A. Weekly, L.A. City Beat, Penthouse, High Times and other publications.