“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!” -George W. Bush, November, 2005

The context for the above quote lies in a meeting President Bush had with Congressional Republicans and aides back in 2005 when they were discussing how to renew the Patriot Act. His outburst came after an aide pointed out that certain provisions of the Patriot Act undermined the U.S. Constitution. Yet even without this quote, which has been vigorously denied by conservative lapdogs, a look at the Bush presidency reveals the disdain Bush has for our national charter, and by association, the concept of democratic governance.

When the American colonists broke the chains of servitude to the monarchy, they set out to create a government by, for, and of the people, modeled on the ancient Greek experiments with democracy. Having endured the abuses of power ubiquitous in a monarchical government, the framers of the U.S. Constitution sought to create a government whereby the people were to be protected from the abuses of governmental intrusion and largess. Under a monarch, there were no individual rights, no quarter from the dictates of the king, no protection from abusive or arbitrary rulings. When the king wanted money, he took it. When the king wanted to go to war, he conscripted his troops. When the king declared a law, there was no room for recourse or debate. This kind of rule offered no freedom, and it was this kind of rule that the Constitution was created to protect against.

And by and large, even with the imperfections and inequities of its origin, the U.S. Constitution has endured and even expanded the concept of freedom and equality over our 220+ years of existence. It has done so for one very important reason- successive generations of American citizens and political leaders have embraced its underlying and all encompassing central theme- government exists at the will of the people, to serve the needs and desires of the people, and must, in its course, be accountable and transparent to the people.

That is not to say that all American politicians throughout our history have embraced these concepts equally. It’s not hard to find dozens of examples of elected officials subverting democracy for personal gain or from a sense of historic necessity. And if the truth shall be told, a great many 20th century American politicians have been complicit in the erosion of a strong tripartite government, in the weakening of the power of the people, and of the overall dismantling of our carefully crafted charter. Indeed, were it not for complicit Congresses, no president alone could have managed to transform our democratic republic into an oligarchy. Regardless, before Geroge W. Bush had himself annointed “Decider in Charge,” most politicians still held that no one, not even the president, could be above the law and that even the president had to abide by the restrictions set forth in the Constitution. And with but a few notable exceptions, even during this country’s greatest challenges like the Civil War and World War II, presidents and congresspersons alike held fast to the provisions in our Constitution that guaranteed certain powers to each branch of government and guaranteed certain rights to American citizens.

I should concede right now that the general powers of our government today are very different than those originally anticipated by the writers of our Constitution. Our government is much more intrusive then they would have liked it to be. And the addition of layers of federal bureaucracy over the decades have grown the size of our government to enormous proportions. But with a few exceptions, governmental expansion, and with it an increase in the power of government and its various branches, has been codified into law with the consent of the governed. The New Deal programs that helped lift this country out of the Great Depression of the 1930’s greatly expanded the role of government into everyday life, but it did so under the support of the majority of Americans. The expansion of governmental services crafted under the Great Society were somewhat more controversial, but were still acted upon with the consent of a majority of Americans who sought to create a more enlightened government that would help its people achieve success without squashing their freedoms. While these governmental expansions clearly exceeded the original intent of the federal government, verbage in the preamble of the Constitution does indeed allow for government to act to “promote the general welfare” and under the sometimes silent direction of their constituents, elected politicians promoted and passed laws to cover a wide range of “public” issues. However, with each passage of a new program or policy, bureaucracies and departments had to be created to fulfill the various mandates, and by the nature of the Constitution, all those new bureaucracies and departments fell under the Executive branch, in essence giving more and more power to the president and his appointees. Most presidents tried to balance the addition of power with the constitutional theory of balance of power. And most congresses and Supreme Courts took pains to keep each branch of government in check. Even Richard Nixon found that the idea “if the president does it it isn’t illegal” didn’t hold water in American government and was forced to resign the presidency for abusing the powers of his office.

But something about following the rules just doesn’t seem to sit well with our current president, George W. Bush. And under the guise of “national security” and “terrorism,” and with our history’s most compliant and spineless Congresses, Bush has turned our government into a parady of its founders vision. Under Bush, not only has abuse of power run roughshod over the tenets of democratic governance, the very notion of government by the people has been corrupted to become government in spite of the people. Where once the Constitution was used to protect people from the abuses of government, now the Constitution is subverted to protect government from the people.

Consider the constant use of signing statements under Bush. While there is plenty of historical precedent for presidents to attach commentary to bills they sign, no president has done so with such frequency and vehemence than Bush. Where other presidents may have used the “signing statement” opportunity to clarify thoughts on laws, Bush has used them to justify ignoring or effectively anulling the law altogether.

Or consider Bush’s claims of executive privilege for anything under the sun, including applying it to instances where it has no legal basis. Executive privilege was designed to shield a president, their actions or words, from public scrutiny when the topic at hand required secrecy and the ability to drop diplomacy from the conversation. But Bush has extended “executive privilege” to cover any situation of any executive branch function, regardless of whether or not the president was involved in a particular conversation or not. The most recent and classic examples involve Bush’s order to former aides Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton to ignore a congressinal subpoena, and to his Justice department to refuse to act on the subsequent contempt of congress charges. Executive privilege was designed to shield a president, not every political hack he ever appointed to a position of incompetence.

Yet these transgressions (or rather, willful acts of constitutional subversion) are only the tip of an unwelcome iceburg of constitutional debasements perpetuated upon America by George W. Bush. Whereas previous presidents often had the public on their side for major governmental shifts on purpose, Bush and his congressional lackeys have not had large scale public support for their most odious and harmful actions. And such support as they may have originally held in the wake of the 9-11 attacks has withered away as presidential excess has destroyed American credibility and debased the Constitution to “just a goddamned piece of paper.”

Abuses of power and the dismantling of the Constitution under Bush has reached previously unknown heights, and our nations great founders are likely rolling in their graves. Among the most grevious transgressions:

Warrantless wiretapping and the presidential decree that private business be shielded from prosecution for abetting illegal governmental actions. The constitution forbids warrantless searches, but some have been allowed through subsequent legislation provided that certain steps are followed. Bush decided he didn’t even need to follow those rules and ordered the most massive warrantless spying program in history.

The introduction of presidentially approved torture, kidnapping and detention in the name of national security. Violating the Constitution is like Bush’s hobby. The Bill of Rights explicitly forbids punishment that is cruel and unusual (torture) as well as detention without charges or trial. And kidnapping is illegal pretty much throughout the civilized world. No amount of argument about how the “terrorists” do it so we will too is acceptable. Security does not require giving up your humanity.

Government secrecy, from Cheney’s secret energy meetings to covering up or ignoring the truth about Iraqi weapons programs to the world’s biggest “lost e-mail” treasure trove, in the Bush administration, information is not for public consumption. Our government was designed to be open and accountable, but to be so it requires that information be shared and public. Under Bush, accountability is non-existant, in part because the flow of information stops at the White House door.

The list could go on for pages and pages, but most of us, even the deniers and Bush lovers, are familiar with the multitude of constitutional transgressions put forth by George W. Bush. And while it is important to recoginze the shared culpability of all elected officials who have given this man-child free reign, it is even more important to recognize that had we not had a president of such pettiness and immaturity, a great many of these abuses would never have occurred and America might still have some standing on the world stage that was not accorded simply due to the might of our military.

Make no mistake- I allow no excuse for the elected Republican and Democrat leaders who have sat idly by and acquiesced or abetted Bush on his path of Constitutional destruction. They are all guilty of cowardice at best, of treason at worst. The congress has repeatedly abrogated its own responsibility as an equal branch of government and allowed these things to go unchallenged.

But it is Bush, and Bush alone, who is responsible for debasing our Constitution and for setting precedents that will make future presidents even less accountable to the people. Now, because of Geroge W. Bush, our only real hope in restoring the concepts and ideals of democracy is to actually get a president who respects not only the Constitution and its meaning and historical importance, but who respects the American people and is ready and willing to deconstruct the vile separation that has been built between the people and our government by George W. Bush.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)