Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Self-destructing candidacies

Regular readers of Montana Headlines know that it is a rarity when we comment on something national unless it is tied in with something happening at the Montana level. This is one of those times.

We learned reading a summary of leftie blogopinions in 4&20 Blackbirds that Obama's candidacy may have just been lost when he stated that he would vote to fund the troops if Bush vetoes Congressional bills that have strings attached to funds for the war in Iraq.

We don't know about whether he's getting the internal Democratic political calculus right, but Obama has a point, whether he knows it or not. Unless Congress is also prepared to pass a resolution that specifically de-authorizes the war, it is asking for a Constitutional crisis to have Congress merely defund the war. Any attached instructions for military commanders also are asking for a Constitutional crisis.

Consider: Congress has the constitutional authority and responsibility to declare war (and, as we have stated before, presumably to undeclare war), and it is tasked with raising funds to support the military. It was probably never contemplated by the Founders that the two might not go clearly hand-in-hand with each other.

Congress needs formally to "undeclare war" if it wants to make a defunding iron-clad. Saying that the war is illegal because no war was declared is to say that every military action since WWII has been illegal -- there is a good case to be made for that, but we doubt that the Democratic Congress is willing to make that case, since in so doing it would indict 4 Democratic Presidents.

Conservatives who have followed the actions of federal courts in recent decades will find it interesting to see what will happen if this goes to federal court in a Constitutional showdown. The President can justifiably claim that Congress authorized the war but that it hasn't carried out its Constitutional responsibility to fund the actions it authorized.

He can furthermore justifiably claim that the Constitution gives no authority to Congress to dictate how a military action is to be conducted. The Supreme Court is unlikely to come up with an emanation from a penumbra saying that Congress has somehow developed constitutional military command authority.

The real question is whether the Supreme Court would use the many episodes of precedent, applied in hallowed areas of liberal activism, where the courts have ordered legislative bodies to fund things that said legislative body doesn't want to fund. We know all about that right here in the great state of Montana. The will of the legislative branch goes out the door -- even the power of the purse -- if the courts decide that the legislature is not meeting constitutional responsibilities. Courts can order legislatures to spend money, and even force them to impose taxes to spend the money that the courts tell the legislature to spend. At least according to modern judicial theories.

Anyone who thinks that the President doesn't have the willpower to take this one all the way through the courts is kidding himself. And we doubt that Democrats would want to chance the fallout from any Supreme Court decision -- regardless of what it is. The President, needless to say, has nothing to lose, and is standing on firmer ground.

Which brings us back to Obama. It is incredible that America would even consider making someone of such thin qualifications President -- but regardless, Obama may be reading this one better than Reid.

This is a separate issue from whether Democratic activists would forgive him for funding the surge, of course. It is early for self-destruction, in any event, especially when one has $20-30 million in the bank.

What is more interesting is that the GOP may actually see a more genuine implosion over this issue. Rudy Guiliani made the incredible assertion recently that the President could just fund the troops anyway -- presumably by taking money appropriated elsewhere and putting it into the war effort. This seems breathtaking in its disregard for the letter and spirit of the Constitution, and makes one wonder if all of those assertions of a Guiliani presidency being an authoritarian nightmare don't have some element of truth behind them. If Bush were to take this advice, he would probably find himself justifiably impeached. We doubt that he will do anything so foolish.

Anyone who thinks that the other presidential contenders aren't going to know how to exploit this serious foot-in-mouth from Guiliani is underestimating, oh, lets pick a couple of names at random: Brownback and Gingrich.

We notably didn't include another legislator. This is because on another front, we have John McCain seeing his candidacy going down in the flames of the Iraq troop surge, which he has been almost alone in championing for many months, if not years. One really has to feel for McCain, since his only path to the nomination was through an attempted repair of his reputation for party disloyalty with a firm support for the President's Iraq policies.

Having shot himself in the foot with nearly the entire party in 2000 for the way in which he ran his campaign against Bush, having destroyed the GOP's fund-raising advantage by getting outflanked by Feingold and the liberal 527s in his noble crusade to (chuckle) take money out of politics, having cut Sen. Frist's feet out from under him as a ringleader of the Gang, having played coy about accepting a VP nomination as a Democrat under John Kerry (we now learn that he may actually have initiated the talks), and having toyed with jumping parties only to be beat to it by Jeffords -- well you get the idea.

If he hadn't done any of those things, he'd be the nominee and would already be raising funds for the general campaign. But then, if pigs could fly... Again, it's sort of pathetic to see McCain reaching now for his tattered mantle of party loyalty -- at precisely the time and on exactly the issue where it would be most advantageously and justifiably shed.

National Review recently had a front cover article (no link available) with Ramesh Ponnuru making a case for McCain -- but it is too little, too late. The libertarian side also had its own front cover article on Reason magazine with exactly the opposite take, predicting that a McCain presidency would be an authoritarian nightmare (recurring themes in our two front-runners, nightmarishly enough.)

Again, it's also too early for GOP campaigns to implode. But it will be interesting to see who is actually still standing in both parties when that February 7 primary comes around.

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