We first encountered David Swanson, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, when he broke the news of the ‘Downing Street Memo’, a document that many considered a smoking gun proving that George W. Bush lied to make a case for invading Iraq. The memo, from a 2002 British intelligence briefing, indicated that Bush was intent on invading Iraq despite his claims to the contrary. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair lied in order to promote the invasion, ostensibly to remove Saddam Hussein based on alleged links to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Swanson told us that “the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.” We did not doubt Swanson’s claim then, and the accuracy of his assertion is even more evident in hindsight.
In his latest book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, Swanson revisits the crimes and abuses of the Bush-Cheney administration, focuses on the spectrum of shared responsibility, offers suggestions and solutions for a more democratic future, and challenges us to become active citizens and agents of change for the better.
Though the sins of Bush-Cheney were not unique to their administration, they took abuse of power to a new level of brazenness and arrogance and in the process made a mockery of the Constitution. Either we are a nation of laws or we are not. Either we enforce the Constitution or we do not. Failure to hold leaders accountable makes it more likely that future presidents will continue illegal behavior. (Note that Pres. Obama continues the practice of missile strikes in foreign countries, detaining people without charge, renditions, signing statements.)
The Bush administration violations of the law are legendary – torture, warrantless spying on citizens, signing statements acknowledging the intention not to execute legislation, attempted domestic use of the military, misleading the U.S. into illegal war, to name but a few. If ever there was an administration that deserved to be impeached, this was it. Yet Congressman Dennis Kucinich was a voice in the wilderness exercising his Constitutional duty to present articles of impeachment.
Swanson correctly accuses Congress of abdicating its duties and allowing the president to assume powers not inherent in the office. Via signing statements, the president became a legislator. Congress should have insisted that the president execute legislation as passed as well as all the laws of the land. Congress had the power to stop every Bush-Cheney crime but did not do so. Further, Congress may have been reluctant to investigate and impeach because members had knowledge of illegal torture and spying, etc. and thus were complicit in the illegal activity. And most (Democrats included) went along with funding Bush’s illegal war.
One factor contributing to abuse of power was the secrecy of the Bush-Cheney operation. The sun did not shine on the machinations of this outfit. Transparency be damned. Congress must cease to roll over and play dead. It must take its Constitutional responsibilities seriously. As Swanson says, “…ultimately we must make Congress accountable to us and persuade it to assert its powers: its power to reject appointments, its power to oversee government operations, and its power to impeach any civil officer guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. If those powers continue to be neglected, they will cease to exist even as they become more badly needed.”
During investigations into impeachable offenses, subpoenaed officials either refused to appear at the hearings or feigned a poor memory. In either case, no information was forthcoming, and no one was held responsible. Federal agencies refused to testify, the White House refused to turn over documents, and the Justice Department, on Bush’s orders, refused to enforce contempt citations. Though it sounds more like Nightfall than Daybreak, this book offers hope.
In Daybreak, Swanson calmly and methodically lays out the many abuses and abdications of power on a broad array of domestic and international issues. He also supplies a wealth of suggestions and solutions. Generally speaking, he advises enforcing laws, improving laws and amending the Constitution so that autocratic presidents do not insinuate imperial authority, ensuring a more democratic media system, and changing our own behavior.
Swanson’s specific suggestions include a checklist of rights to be included in an amended Constitution; the end of the occupation of Iraq, either by not passing funding legislation or, if necessary, bringing bills to fund only the withdrawal of troops via discharge petition; the promotion of a single-payer health care system which advances the welfare of Americans.
Readers come away with a call to activism and the demand that we accept personal responsibility. We are not off the hook but are compelled to accept the challenge. Swanson makes that clear in no uncertain terms: “We the people permit these agencies to exist, and we are responsible for every ounce of suffering they inflict on the world…” and “Cheney and Bush could not have done any of what they did without Congress. But by the same token, Congress could not have done any of what it has done without us. It is our responsibility to make our demands clear and forceful, and to devise strategies that hold our representatives accountable if they fail to represent us.”
To that end, we must remain “disciplined, resolved, fearless.” It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. We must not back down. We must not give up.
Please join us as Kutztown Area Democratic Club’s Fall Film/Lecture Series presents David Swanson’s lecture and book signing on November 4 at 7 p.m. in Room 145 of Kutztown University’s Boehm Hall. Plan to attend what promises to be an informative and stimulating discussion.