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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Veto

Baseball: Life in KC -- losing two days in the row vs. the Red Sox 1-0, after a blown ball call led to a three run homer late, thus resulting in a 5-4 loss at the start of the series. The team actually is showing a pulse, having a good June, including hurting the Cards (who continue to be weak) in the progress. The Royals actually have decent veteran bats, but suspect pitching, which makes those two games particularly unfortunate. Of course, since I do not like the Red Sox, my thoughts here are not simply support for an underdog. Or, dog.

What is the role of the presidential veto? A primary one is to protect the executive role, especially from legislation that would negatively affect its privileges. But, President Bush does not need the veto for that, since he just does what he wants anyway. A key way to do this is to assume, clear statement and intent notwithstanding, that legislation does not affect executive power as your extreme views would so define the term.

Thus, we have vague signing statements that conservatives are concerned with since it is unclear what exactly what they mean. In other words, they want the guy to have the guts (you know, like a Texan) to clearly state his views. Also, we just have them doing things in secret. And, things not so secret (if not quite official) even when the legislature and courts tell you not to do so. Stonewalling, including in the courts, is also a prime strategy.*

[An aside: The President's lawyer, aka the Attorney General, let it out that the President himself stopped the investigation of the NSA by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. A letter was released to Sen. Specter recently, suggesting the charm of even restricted oversight, that the investigators "begged" (per the NY Daily News story on the case ... James Gordon Meek again doing a good job respecting an area not quite the main concern of this local tabloidish paper) to be cleared to investigate since January. As one person noted, once upon time such stonewalling had quite negative connotations ... Nixonian.]

Another reason, harkening back to early presidents, is to guard against unconstitutional laws. The President has the obligation to faithfully execute the law of the land, thus has no power to sign into law unconstitutional bills. Thus, early bills funding internal improvements were vetoed. As shown here, as well as the veto of the bank reauthorization by President Jackson, the President's view on the constitutionality of the bill might be open to debate. So, arguably, it should not be done in close cases. Likewise, the President can always challenge the law in court, especially via an "as applied" matter to deal with particularly troublesome matters.

At the time of the early vetoes, federalism made internal improvements a major concern, but there were later cases where discretion was supplied ... especially when only a small aspect of the bill was a problem. Nixon took the litigation route respecting a law making the voting age eighteen, both for federal and state offices. At any rate, President Bush has a Republican Congress, and generally found this not a problem. When things like the campaign finance legislation came to his desk, something he said was constitutionally dubious, a veto was not forthcoming. As noted, this is arguably legitimate, depending on the situation.

Finally, and more constitutionally controversial, there is a general decision that certain legislation is simply bad policy for the country at large. Though having executive and constitutional concerns, President Jackson also used this approach in his Bank Veto. As the President played a greater role in public policy, this aspect of the veto became more important as well.

The President is said to be the best representative of the people at large, not just of individual districts or states, which is open to debate. At the very least, decisions of the people's branch are worthy of respect enough to make a "line item veto" questionable, especially since it allows one person to have a special power to promote special interest legislation. The power was particularly not given in the Constitution, in part to promote compromise bills that give a bit to various sides.

But, a veto of legislation as a whole for this reason is sound to some degree. As a policy matter, and probably as a matter of separation of powers, it should be used carefully. It is a judgment call. Still, especially since it is his very first veto (for a two term president, such a long fallow period did not occur since the time of Jefferson, who also had a Republican Congress in his pocket, again up to a point [e.g., the impeachment of Justice Chase]), vetoing the stem cell funding bill is a bad judgment. It surely is when the President says that he believes such research is "murder." Obviously, it is hard to be snark-free here given his support of the death penalty, cruel wars, underfunding many things that are essential to healthy life, opposing medical procedures necessary for the well being of pregnant women, etc. (ad nauseam).

We try to be fair though. Again, I fail to see how he can allow in vitro fertilization to go on without a protest at least on the level of his Social Security "reform" road show. And, why a minority moral view such as this should trump over the will of Congress, including strong anti-abortion voices like Sen. "Murder Promoter" Hatch, in also unclear. I can respect those wary about this sort of research, though not quite understanding how they can be consistent unless they also fully oppose in vitro fertilization, which involves the destruction of loads of embryos. The research here takes stem cells from what will be destroyed anyway, with the permission of the "parents" involved, to promote potential life saving treatment.

[Bush had a photo op with "snowflake" babies that came from adopted embryos. Fine enough, but such babies arose from a technology that inherently requires procedures that destroys many more "snowflakes." And, I do not think he is pushing for the embryos to be forcibly made available for adoption. Again, there is ... to quote someone ... a full of "shit" quality to this whole matter.]

This is not without concerns, but should we leave it to the whims of one man, or the decision making of the people's representatives? After all, a small minority opposes other things, such as experiments on animals, including primates, or any number of other things the negatively affects human life.** The "life" at stake here are not constitutional persons. I personally find the term "murder" especially unfortunate given the connotations of the term. It is simply an abuse of language, which is not surprising given the source. When governmental funding is involved, moral questions will sometimes have to be addressed, and the future will only increase the complexity of the questions. Cloning etc. But, and some supportive of the current regime surely agree, this underlines the importance of having our representatives debate and decide the issues.

A conservative leaning national legislative body, including some clearly anti-abortion, agreed to this legislation. Their moral judgment is in no way clearly wrong or contrary to a majority of the population at large. The person saying so has a record that makes his judgment at the very least somewhat open to question. To be generous. The fact a small segment of the population disagrees, and thinks this akin to "murder," doesn't change this ... it also is unclear why in this particular case, as compared to any number of other areas, this minority should trump.

More abuse of language, democracy, and science. Par for the course. He could not quite wiggle out of this one, though enough Republicans (including "moderate" Sen. DeWine in a tough race) voted for it to help him enough to avoid an override.

The whole matter leaves one with a taste of disgust, but it also is simply a horrible use of the veto (surely as a maiden effort!) as well.


* This results in serious damage. Years have passed as the President's minions delay submitting to basic rules of civilized behavior respecting those detained in our prisons pursuant to post-9/11 actions. The broad term is appropriate, since we are not just talking about many people taken far from the battlefield, but also those taken in via material witness warrants, immigration violations, and so forth.

** One need not be an animal rights advocate to be more concerned with electric shocks and so forth inflicted on higher primates than studies on stem cells from "life" that will be destroyed anyway.