Paul Greenberg

Another day, another constitutional crisis. Or so the loyal opposition says. When the president decided to fire a handful of federal prosecutors who serve at his pleasure and replace them with appointees he liked better, just as the U.S. Constitution provides, he was accused of violating the Constitution. Also of introducing politics into political appointments. In short, the chief executive of the United States was accused of hiring, firing and generally acting like a chief executive. Outrageous.

Somehow, when a president named Bill Clinton demanded the resignations of every single federal prosecutor in the country, I can't remember these same partisans who now yell Constitutional Crisis at the drop of a U.S. Attorney making a peep. In partisan politics, it's who takes the action - our guy or theirs - that makes it right or wrong, not the action itself.

But all that was yesterday's constitutional crisis and general foofaraw.Today, it's the vice president who is, as is his habit, out to keep his confidential papers confidential, or maybe just all his papers.

It seems that, for the past few years, the vice president's office has been ignoring an executive order that requires every "agency" or "entity" within the executive branch to tell the Security Oversight Office (a name that could have come out of "1984" or maybe the cult movie "Brazil") how much material it classifies or declassifies, that is, keeps secret or releases to the public.

The vice president claims his office doesn't fit the definition of a federal agency within the meaning of that executive order, which in any event was not intended to cover his office. Naturally enough, the executive who issued that order - namely, the president of the United States - agrees with him.They're on the same team.

Just as naturally, a Democratic Congress is building up a head of rhetorical steam and preparing to investigate this latest Constitutional Crisis.

This is how the two-party system (and the constitutional system of checks and balances in general) is supposed to work, and clearly does.

It wouldn't do, of course, for this administration to have announced a few years back that both the president's office and the vice president's were not subject to the president's order. That would have been too simple,above-board and open. It might have been criticized. (And also avoided this whole contretemps in a teapot that's now erupted.) So the administration kept that interpretation of its order secret, or at least unannounced. How Cheneyesque.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 

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