WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush on Tuesday backed a controversial constitutional amendment — a move the president said was needed to stop judges from clinging to the traditional American definition of the "most enduring human institution."
"After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are refusing to change the most fundamental institution of our civilization," the president said in urging Congress to approve his amendment. "Their action has created confusion on an issue that requires clarity."
Mr. Bush’s amendment, appropriately titled The President’s Amendment, would amend the Constitution of the United States to officially retire the constitution, and places all secular and religious authority in the hands of the President of the United States, who would be given the additional titles of Defender of the Constitution and Liberator of the Americans with the power to legislate by executive order, to tax on his own authority, to expropriate property and hold Americans and foreigners in prison indefinitely without charges.
Mr. Bush, during his White House address, stated the need for this unusual move, which many commentators interpreted as an election season tactic to intimidate rivals and the courts and to silence critics.
In his statement, Mr. Bush noted actions by State Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court to question his claim to be the sole interpreter of Constitutional provisions guaranteeing certain rights for native-born Americans and foreign-born nationals captured or killed by American forces at home and abroad. This, Mr. Bush said, is contrary to his interpretation of Constitutional law. A president has the authority to interpret and enforce that interpretation on the other branches of government and the state and local governments as well, Mr. Bush said. u201CThe government is the most fundamental institution of human civilization, and I am the government.u201D
Mr. Bush, who casts himself as a "compassionate conservative," left the door open for civil trials as an alternative to military tribunals or summary executions.
"Unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of my law by local and other officials — all of which adds to uncertainty in my regime and our popular war against evil," Mr. Bush said. "By taking this action, I can protect America’s families from evil, defend their freedom, and ensure essential American justice from the despotism of the courts, the press and the French."
Democrats accused Mr. Bush of attacking the document that is the bedrock of American democracy to divert election-year attention from his economic record — an allegation the White House denied. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who still hopes to run against Mr. Bush if there is a presidential election this year, said: "I believe President Bush is wrong. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
"All Americans should be concerned when a president who is in political trouble treats the Constitution of the United States with such disrespect," said Kerry, who opposes recognizing that foreigners possess natural rights, but will oppose the Presidential Amendment if it reaches the Senate floor. Mr. Bush is "looking for a wedge issue to divide the American people," Kerry said. "And say what you will about the American people, many still support having a constitution." Sen. Kerry did add, "Bring it on!"
Campaigning in Georgia, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., said he was against the president’s idea of amending the constitution. "I don’t personally support presidential dictatorship," he said. "My position has always been that it’s for the states to decide."
A major libertarian Republican group, Republicans for a Functioning Constitution, accused Mr. Bush of "pandering to the totalitarians" and "discriminating against the Constitution."
The American Center for Law, Justice and the State, which focuses on legal and bureaucratic issues, applauded Mr. Bush’s announcement, saying it "serves as a critical catalyst to energize and organize those who will work diligently to ensure that the presidency remains the central institution in the daily life of every man and woman."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush believes that legislation for the Presidential amendment, submitted by Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Florida, meets his principles in protecting the "sanctity of American justice."
However, California Republican Rep. David Dreier said a constitutional amendment might not be necessary.
"I will say that I’m not supportive of amending the Constitution on this issue," said Dreier, a co-chairman of Mr. Bush’s campaign in California in 2000. "I believe that we should continue with the normal process of simply ignoring the constitution, and I think that we’re at a point — what with the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, our other spending priorities — where amending the constitution simply isn’t necessary."
John Podhoretz, author of the new book Bush Country and a strong supporter of the president added, "This is just further evidence that this president thinks in broad strokes. Our president is a history-making president and I think Americans can rest assured that America will be a long time recovering from our president’s example of moral and enlightened stewardship."
The neoconservative wing of his party has been anxious for Mr. Bush to follow up his rhetoric on the issue with action. In recent weeks, Mr. Bush has repeatedly described himself as a "war president" and described his term as "historic times."
Adam Young [send him mail] is co-founder of The Resume Store, a Canadian-based service offering rsums and cover letters.