“Plebiscitary Democracy: Political scientists use this to describe those systems wherein a leader is elected but once elected has almost all of the power. . . .Elect the President. Let him win and then get out of his way” — Barney Frank from “The Nation” magazine describing The Presidency of G. W. Bush
And in The Nation, Barney Frank goes on to describe the Bush Presidency thus:
“We have historically talked about checks, about balances, about our three branches of government. We have contrasted that to the more unitary governments in other parts of the world, even democratic ones. We have separate legislative, judiciary and executive branches.
This is an Administration which considers checks and balances to be a hindrance. They believe that democracy consists essentially of electing a President every four years and entrusting to that President almost all of the important decisions.
I believe we have seen a seizing of power that should not have been seized by the executive branch. But thanks to the acquiescence of a Republican majority in this Congress, driven in part by ideological sympathy, the President has been allowed to be the decider. So we have had a very different kind of American government. It is democracy, but it is closer to plebiscitary democracy than it is to the traditional democracy of America.”
What Mr Frank is effectively saying is that once G. W. Bush came to power, he:
- Ignored legislation passed into Law, and simply did things his way. An example is The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by which the President and Congress together set forward a method for wiretapping and eavesdropping in cases where we thought there were foreign threats to the US. This legislation was passed 30 years ago and has been obeyed by Carter, Bush Snr. and Clinton within the full requirements of law. Bush has ignored this legislation and the Law.
- By ignoring the legislation, Bush is effectively doing what he wants, not what the people or Congress want.
- Bush has been able to do this because of his interpretation of the power contained in the “vesting clause” of the Constitution which reads, “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” This short sentence in the US Constitution allows the President to ignore legislation, ignore Congress and ignore his people. He does what he likes in other words.
- And logically, if you carry this misuse of power to extremes, then it can be said, looking at Bush’s performance, that he has gone against his own US Constitution.
The Final Word rests with Barney Frank:
“We had the Patriot Act situation, where the Judiciary Committee unanimously adopted a very reasonable, balanced bill, which gave law enforcement expanded powers to fight terrorism but had some safeguards against abuse.
But the Attorney General said, No, we do not like that bill. Here is a new one. And a new bill was written overnight and “debated” on the floor of the House with no ability to amend it.
These examples demonstrate that Congress was now ready to do whatever the Administration wanted. They don’t want Congress to agree on their ability to detain people at Guantánamo or track terrorist financing because accepting the right of Congress to agree with them implies that at some future date Congress might disagree. And plebiscitary democracy has no room for Congressional disagreement once the President has made his decision. So we have a situation of unilateralism and a refusal even to take Congress in when Congress wants to be a willing partner.”
This behaviour by the Bush Administration, who indeed have the ability to do as they like in government is, at best, a poor hash of the US Constitution and democracy, and at its worst is nothing more than A Banana Republic government dictatorship without any binding or effective Constitution at all.