Here and there with the executive

From a couple of posts on the muscular assertion of executive power and the impotence of the legislative branches in the Anglo-American world (masculinist language very much intentional):

Though the Westminster crowd say that parliament is sovereign I hadn’t realized that the British parliament had so little power against the dominant executive. Consider what Simon Jenkins has written in an op-ed in The Guardian. He says:

Last night Britons were offered the spectacle of their MPs pleading with the government to be allowed an inquiry into the Iraq war. For all the vigour of the debate, they were still humiliated by the government’s supporters. While British soldiers ram democracy down others’ throats at the point of a gun, their representatives seem incapable of performing democracy’s simplest ritual, challenging the executive.

Well the House of Representatives in Australia doesn’t either. And the Senate has been captured. Jenkins goes on to say that:

Britain has seen no indictment of the pre-invasion mendacity or the lack of post-invasion planning. The Commons has not cross-examined returning generals or diplomats with anything but cringing deference. Occasional hearings by the defence and foreign affairs committees have yielded only pat repetitions of the official line. British MPs enjoy themselves in Basra palace, where they congratulate the army on behaving better than the US. But frank military assessment must be gleaned from gossip, seminars, websites and the occasional general cutting loose on television.

Gee ‘cringing deference’ really does sound like Australia.

Jenkins adds:

Britain’s debate on the Iraq war is taking place in the media. It should be in parliament. Parliament’s mission is to “legislate, deliberate and scrutinise”. Since it no longer legislates independent of government (except on such trivial matters as hunting) and its debates are worse attended than a pub game of Trivial Pursuit, it is left with scrutiny. Of that there is none. The Commons has become little more than an electoral college for the prime minister. (from here)


Time Magazine has an article discussing how the administration plans to respond should Democrats retake Congress. An excerpt:

If lame-duck Presidents are to achieve anything, they often have to look for ways to go around Congress, especially when it is in the hands of the other party. Clinton used Executive Orders and his bully pulpit to encourage school uniforms, impose ergonomic rules on employers and prevent mining, logging and development on 60 million acres of public land. White House press secretary Tony Snow says Bush may take the same bypass around Capitol Hill. “He told all of us, ‘Put on your track shoes. We’re going to run to the finish,'” Snow said. “He’s going to be aggressive on a lot of fronts. He’s been calling all his Cabinet secretaries and telling them, ‘You tell me administratively everything you can do between now and the end of the presidency. I want to see your to-do list and how you expect to do it.’ We’re going to try to be as ambitious and bold as we can possibly be.”

In fact, when it comes to deploying its Executive power, which is dear to Bush’s understanding of the presidency, the President’s team has been planning for what one strategist describes as “a cataclysmic fight to the death” over the balance between Congress and the White House if confronted with congressional subpoenas it deems inappropriate. The strategist says the Bush team is “going to assert that power, and they’re going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court on every issue, every time, no compromise, no discussion, no negotiation.”

Not pretty. (from here)

I wonder if these declarations are just that–belligerent (re)statements of foregone state-administrative realities. More importantly, I wonder what’s really at stake here. Is the fact that the issue of executive power is being aired merely an indication of a brewing civil war between governing forces? Or does the shift (real or perceived) to a strong executive mark a dramatic rearrangement of the society of control, a repositioning of the operations of domination? I lean toward the former, but would love to hear how the fight over executive power weighs on the latter.


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