PROVINCETOWN, MASS.—A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column that resonated with a lot of people.
Since 2001, I noted, "We've lost our right to see an attorney, to confront our accusers, even to get a fair trial. Government agents have kidnapped thousands of people, most of whom have never been heard from again. Bush even signed an edict claiming the right to assassinate anyone, including you and me, based solely on his whims. Torture, the ultimate sign that civilized society has been replaced by a police state," has been legalized.None of the major presidential candidates are currently promising to do what it would take to restore democracy: close Gitmo and the CIA torture chambers, get out of Afghanistan and Iraq, revoke the protofascist USA-Patriot and Military Commissions acts, obey the Geneva Conventions and turn over Bush, his torturers, his Congressional allies and his top civilian and military officials to an international war crimes tribunal for their role in the murders of more than one million Afghans and Iraqis.The politicians are too timid to do what's right. But we can bully them into it. Let's begin America's long slog toward moral and political redemption by demanding that our next president's first act be to declare the Bush administration null and void. Every law and act carried out between 12 noon on January 20, 2001, and January 20, 2009, should just ... go ... poof.
My readers are cranky, distrustful and smart. (You can read their comments at tedrall.com.) Rallblog readers are all over the place politically: old-school Democrats, Goldwater Republicans, libertarians, socialists, anarchists, even neoconservatives. But they're speaking out as one about my call to expunge the legacy of the Bush administration: Yes. Yes. Hell, yes!
Let's make it happen!
Now is the time. Write (an actual letter, not e-mail) to your favorite presidential candidate and declare that you are a single-issue voter. Swear that, if he or she agrees to sign the following pledge, your vote is assured. If not, promise to stay home or vote for someone else.
Pledge for American Renewal:
"I, ______________, hereby solemnly pledge that my first act upon assuming the office of President shall be to sign an American Renewal Act of 2009, which shall declare all laws, regulations, executive orders, treaties and actions undertaken by the federal government during the illegitimate and unlawful administration of George W. Bush to be null, void and without effect."
Sound crazy? So did Thomas Paine in 1775. As a practical and legal matter, however, consigning Bush to the dung heap of history makes more sense than revolting against the British. First, the law.
George W. Bush's January 20, 2001, inauguration was unconstitutional. This isn't because Bush lost the popular vote. Nor is it because he lost Florida and thus the electoral vote. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear the Florida recount lawsuit, Bush v. Gore, violated the U.S. Constitution. It's a states' rights issue. Elections fall under state law; the highest court that may resolve a legal challenge about an election is a state supreme court. The U.S. Supreme Court—a federal body—didn't have jurisdiction in the case.
An American Renewal Act is merely a confirmation of two centuries of standard practice.
There are precedents. After France was liberated in 1944, incoming president Charles de Gaulle declared the collaborationist government of Marshall Henri-Philippe Petain null and void. (It was a stretch. Unlike Bush, who carried out a judicial coup, Petain came to power legally.) In any case, Petain vanished from textbooks. Numerous laws passed between 1940 and 1944, dealing with matters like taxes and construction projects, had to be debated and passed all over again.The Southern secession of 1860 was perfectly legal, yet laws and currency issued by the Confederate government in the South were invalidated by the victorious Union in 1865.
The main argument for erasing Bush and his nefarious deeds is a legal one: Official acknowledgement that the 2000 election was stolen gets the U.S. back on the path to democracy. (Should Al Gore should be allowed to serve the term he won in 2000? I don't know.) There's also an ethical principle at stake. As de Gaulle said about Petain's partnership with the Nazis, the Bush administration so disgraced itself and our nation that we have to renounce it in order to restore our moral authority, to be able to face citizens of other, less despicable, countries in the eye. Another argument is based on power. Imagine that Gore had seized power in 2000 instead. Now imagine that he had turned as rabid as Bush, that he had ruled as far to the left as Bush has to the right. Businesses would have been nationalized. Health care would have been socialized; doctors would be federal employees. Taxes on the rich would have soared while the poor got off scot-free. Republican protesters at the Democratic National Convention would have gotten beaten up and thrown into filthy internment facilities for days on end. Crazy Gore would have apologized for foreign policies that provoked the 9/11 attacks. To prove he meant it, he would have sent troops to overthrow the world's most heinous dictators, all U.S. allies, in Uzbekistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Now imagine that, over the years, Gore's policies had ruined the economy and mired the military in endless, losing wars. That people had turned against him to the same degree that they've rejected Bush. As Frank Rich writes in The New York Times, only 24 percent of Americans approve of the Bush administration—almost as bad as the image of the U.S. in Pakistan.
You can bet that the Republicans, after they took back power, would carry out the mother of all rollbacks. Gore, the rogue president, would probably wind up in prison. There's no reason to treat Bush and his policies any more gently.
"We are a people in clinical depression," writes Rich. "Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon." Anyone who reads Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA knows the U.S. was damned far from perfect before Bush came along. But Rich's broader point is correct. Falling short of lofty ideals is better than forgetting about them. Demand that the major presidential candidates sign the Pledge for American Renewal. We know the woman and half-dozen men who are leading in the polls want to rule us. But will they lead?
Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?, an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.