Freedom New Mexico
Apparently a perverse understanding of the meaning of the season got to President Bush as Uncle Santa announced a $13.4 billion loan (and another $4 billion likely early next year) to U.S. automakers General Motors and Chrysler.
Even as most Americans are cutting back on the amount of Christmas shopping they’re putting on plastic this year, the administration seems to cherish the childish notion that it can be Santa Claus.
With our money, of course — or through making our money worth less in the near future.
The most notable aspect of the deal is what it reveals about how George W. Bush (and all too many Americans) views the institution of the presidency. In the current incarnation, the president of the United States can do pretty much anything he wants, whenever he wants to do it. Few absolute monarchs or dictators have had more arbitrary power.
The heart of the idea of a civil society, the principle that rulers and ruled alike are subject to the same laws, is revealed as an ideal to which we no longer even aspire, a curious anachronism.
Consider the history of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the pot of funny money from which these loans will be made. When Congress was asked to authorize the program in September, it was told the money would be used to buy problematic mortgage-backed securities from financial institutions, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he opposed using it to inject capital directly into them. But the money was never used for such purchases (which may have been just as well) and a few weeks later Secretary Paulson announced it would be used in the way he said he had opposed.
A few weeks later, after pleas for bailouts from other businesses, administration spokespeople made it clear the TARP money was for financial institutions only. They held to that position firmly — until they didn’t.
Then Congress, after much debate, declined to bail out the auto industry. So President Bush decided he would do it on his own authority.
In other words, it didn’t matter what the original purpose of the TARP program was, and it didn’t matter that Congress, which theoretically controls the government’s purse strings, decided not to bail out the auto companies. All it took was for the president to experience pangs and panic.
This is hardly novel, especially in an administration that has declared it could use warrantless wiretaps in violation of U.S. law, stretch the definition of torture, wage war on a country that posed nothing remotely resembling an imminent threat, and generally “restore” the unaccountable power of the executive branch to unheard-of heights. But it makes a mockery of constitutionalism and the rule of law.
There are plenty of reasons to lament this embrace of the “too big to fail” mentality. But the breathtaking expansion of executive prerogative may do the most long-term damage to American liberties.