January 12, 2006

America, Turn to the Dark Side

It seems to me that I remember, back when Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith came out, that there was a bit of a flap over whether or not George Lucas intended to speak to our own American political situation through his movie. At this point, I should warn the readers who have not seen the Star Wars prequels that they should not read on, because this will spoil those movies.

But think about it. In Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpatine expands his executive power by provoking an unjust war between the Galactic Republic and a separatist group, an insurgency if you will. The war itself is not really the point, although Palpatine has no qualms about killing; rather, the point is to so vastly expand his executive power that, by the end of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine has gone from chancellor of the Galactic Senate to emperor of the new Galactic Empire. He did this primarily by means of the war he provoked, but he also did it by taking control of both the Galactic Congress and the courts, leaving no one to oppose him. We were told that drawing comparisons between Emperor Palpatine and President Bush was absurd: first of all, he did not provoke the war with Iraq based on lies, although we now know that he did; and second, surely we could not believe that he was trying to expand his own executive power so that he could become emperor of a new American Empire.

But we now know that he is trying to do just that.

It is primarily through the Iraq War and the War on Terror that President Bush has expanded his executive power; the false fear he provoked prior to the war led us into the war, and the fear he has provoked since the war began has kept the American people docile and unwilling to oppose the expansion of his executive power. I believe this is the real reason for the Iraq War; some will say it's about oil, others about revenge against Saddam Hussein, but I think it was just a convenient means by which President Bush could go from being mere President to Emperor in a matter of two or three years. But there has been another, more subtle means by which President Bush has attempted to expand his executive power: taking over the legislative and judicial branches.

In fairness, President Bush did not really "take over" the legislative branch. The American people did that for him. But he has done a good job, with help from the rubber stamp formerly known as Congress, of taking over the judicial branch; he has packed the courts with ideologues who have only one thing in common. And no, it's not what you're thinking. It's not a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, because not all of President Bush's judicial nominees are opposed to abortion. Rather, the one thing that all of President Bush's judicial nominees have in common is the doctrine of the "unitary executive," a doctrine which would vastly expand the President's power and undermine the constitutional separation of powers. This is the only context in which Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court made sense; this nomination, which left the Religious Right scratching its collective head, made perfect sense to the White House, because what President Bush is looking for in his nominees is not a pro-life judicial philosophy but a pro-executive judicial philosophy. It seems that he wants the judiciary in his pocket so that he can continue to expand his own executive power.

And so it is with fascination that I have watched as the Democratic minority in the Senate has begun to question Alito's views on executive power, leaving aside the issue of abortion for a moment to peek outside their box and realize that there are other issues to consider. I just hope they're not too late. In Revenge of the Sith, by the time the few remaining Jedi and opposition senators realized what Palpatine was up to, it was way too late: he had already built his army, declared himself emperor, and begun construction of the Death Star. In President Bush's quest for the expansion of his own executive power, he is not far behind Emperor Palpatine. He has built an army of unquestioning supporters ready to aid him in anything, constitutional or unconstitutional, moral or immoral, all in the name of national security; he has expanded his power so that he can defy our most important laws pertaining to torture, due process, and privacy. What's left to do?

What's left for President Bush to do is name his new apprentice and build his Death Star. His new apprentice, friends and neighbors, is Judge Samuel Alito. He is the Darth Vader to President Bush's Emperor Palpatine. And the Death Star, the final blow to our democratic republic, is a Supreme Court ruled by John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and others like them, others who embrace the doctrine of the "unitary executive." Congress has already become President Bush's rubber stamp; if the courts do the same, we can kiss our democracy goodbye. Who will be there to tell the President that the expansion of his executive power is unconstitutional, if not Congress and the Supreme Court?

Toward the end of Revenge of the Sith, Senator Padme Amidala, the doomed wife of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), says: "So this is how liberty dies -- with thunderous applause." Let us hope not.

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See Also:
"Against omnipotent rulers," Philocrites; "Schumer questions nominee's theory on executive role," The Boston Globe