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The Emperor Has No Clothes

I’m the commander—see, I don’t need to explain—I do not need to explain why I do things. That’s the interesting thing about being President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.—George W. Bush from Bush at War by Bob Woodward, as quoted in Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency.

That one statement epitomizes the central theme of Senator Robert C. Byrd’s (D-West Virginia) new book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency. That is that President Bush is an arrogant man whom Byrd sees as "callow and reckless," and "incredibly dangerous," and thoroughly undeserving of the office he currently holds.

I do not believe there has never been more negative press (books, magazine articles, newsprint etc.) written about a sitting president, as has been written about Bush in the history of our Republic. Attacks on the Bush presidency have reached a fever-pitch in recent months, with books by former Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil leading the pack. But few critics of the Bush Administration and its many failings bring to the debate the weight of Senator Byrd who has served along side 11 presidents. With forty-five years of Senate tenure to claim as his own, combined with a scholar's understanding of constitutional government, few can match Senator Byrd’s experience and insight into the inner working of our Republic and it many and varied machinations.

In Losing America, Byrd not only criticizes the oft-discussed rise of the neoconservative philosophy, but he also speaks with deep sorrow and undeniable passion at what he sees as the slow erosion of constitutionally mandated separation of powers between the Congress and the presidency. And Byrd also speaks with sorrow to what he sees as the evisceration of the United States Senate at the hands of a simple minded man, whose lack of constitutional acumen has led to the "slow unraveling of the people's liberties," in the months and years following 9/11.

An eloquent orator, Byrd often laces his speeches with quotes from antiquity and the founding fathers, which he uses to formulate well-reasoned legal and historical arguments to illustrate his concerns, and drive his central theme home; mainly, as the title to one of his speeches points our, the Emperor Has No Clothes and he, Byrd, is two crier trying desperately to make us all see the naked arrogance and destructiveness of the Bush presidency.

At age 87, the fiddle player and former Klansman from West Virginia is an unlikely Pied Piper. But in the months leading up to the Iraq War, Byrd thrust by his own sense outrage at the treatment of the Senate, whom he sees as the greatest deliberative body in the world, became the Congress’s moral conscience and protector of the Constitution. As Senators young and old, Democrat and Republican fell in line behind the Bush Administration due to intimidation, bullying, and outright lies, Byrd, stood his ground. And through—now famous floor speeches, eight of which are included in this book—repeatedly warned that the Bush White House was on a reckless and perilous course, one that endangered the very foundations of our democracy. How prescient were his views? Each one of has to take an objective look at our country and it standing in the word, an answer that question for themselves, but I stand with the Senator!

A recent newspaper article noted on the occasion of Senator Byrd’s now famous February 13, 2003 speech, entitled We Stand Passively Mute:

“When he rose on Feb. 12, 2003, to speak against the Bush administration's request for congressional authorization, his words ricocheted around the world. He chided his colleagues for standing ‘passively mute . . . paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.’ He attacked the idea of pre-emptive war, calling Iraq ‘the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time . . . in contravention of international law.’"

In many ways Losing America is unique among the books calling the Bush Administration to task for its reckless course. Byrd, long past fearing political retribution or concerned about revenge from the White House, pulls few punches in his lambasting of Bush whom he says challenges the wisdom of our founders like none of the other eleven presidents he’s seen in office. Through Byrd’s eyes we gain unique insight into the inner working of the Senate, and none to subtle nuances of the budget debates between Congress and the Executive Branch of OUR government. Byrd, through his fluent prose treats us to a history lesson in American government, offers insight into the minds of the Founding Fathers as they crafted the founding principles of the American Republic.

Now Come the Dogs of War

Byrd in his quest to put the current administration in the strongest possible light thus proving that the Emperor Has No Clothes even cites an infamous quotation by Hermann Goering on how to sell a war to the citizenry; it is:

Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither did Russia, or England or America, nor for that matter Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leader of the country who determine policy and it is always a simple matter to drag people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…[V]oice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.—Hermann Goering, quoted in the Nuremberg Diary (1947) by G.M. Gilbert

Thus opens Chapter 8 of Losing America, entitled Selling The War, speaking of the now ill-joined Iraq War, which of course is still ongoing. Byrd speaks out forcefully against the war, chiding his fellow Senators for giving into the dogged pressure from the Bush White House and voting to supplant—for a second time in thirty years—the power of the Congress to declare war and transferring it the presidency.

Again in his speech We Stand Passively Mute (included in the book), given on the floor of the Senate on February 12, 2003, Byrd stated…

”[O]n this February day, as this nation stands on the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horror of war. Yet this chamber is, for the most part, silent—ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of the particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United State Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.”

More then just a testimony to the arrogance of the Bush presidency, Losing America is blistering critique of the United States Congress in general and the Senate in particular. Time and again Senator Byrd calls upon history to make his points, comparing the modern American Senate with that of ancient Rome; indeed he sees many parallels between the Roman Republic where English law was born, and thus our own, and the American Republic. And just as the Roman Republic fell from the inattention of its citizenry, Byrd sees the signs of America demise written in our current course, stating, “[M]any early symptoms that heralded the Roman decline may be seen in our own nation today.”

More then any other book I have read on the Bush presidency thus far, Losing America resonates more closely, rings more true, and sings more perilous, because of Byrd and the wealth of knowledge and experience he brings to bear. He is not a government employee with a grudge, nor a political appointee with an axe to grind; he is a sitting United States Senator, a representative of the people, a member of a co-equal branch of government, OUR government. And in his words, though sometimes coated with bitterness, anger, and frustration, a true love of country can be discerned; a true concern for the welfare of the Republic can be gleamed.

Who better then him to sound the trumpet of alarm and have it resonant truly? Who better then him to march upon the field flying an upside down Old Glory signifying to us, the American people, that all is not right with OUR Republic? Though a Democrat, Byrd’s words flow not from a partisan quill, but from a deep love of country; his words of derision aimed at Bush are formed not by hatred of the man, but from a genuine concern the he is taking the country down the wrong path; We The People would do well to take heed of the Emperor with no cloths, before he undresses us all.

Posted by V. Edward Martin at August 29, 2004 11:41 AM