Will it make a difference David Hoppe Not long ago, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave a speech at Georgetown University. Maybe you heard about it. O’Connor, who was nominated for the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, and served as the court’s first woman Supreme Court justice, said, “We must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary.” O’Connor didn’t stop there. She associated interference with the judiciary with totalitarian regimes like those that held sway in the former Communist bloc and in other, so-called developing countries. “It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship,” O’Connor said, “but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.” O’Connor’s remarks were picked up and slung around the talkshows and the Internet, where they elicited a certain amount of cluck-clucking from pundits. Could the justice, they wondered, really be talking about goings-on in the United States of America? Last week we learned the answer to that question, courtesy of the administration of President George Bush Jr. The Boston Globe reported that since he took office (to say the least!), Bush has claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted on his watch. Bush argues that if a law doesn’t square with his interpretation of the Constitution, he doesn’t have to obey or enforce it. “Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration-services problems, whistle-blower protections for nuclear regulatory officials and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research,” the Globe reported. Here’s how he does it. When Congress passes a law, like the recent statute forbidding torture, President Bush makes a public show of shaking hands with the bill’s sponsors and signing off on it with those ceremonial pens. Everyone applauds and the story makes the evening news. Meanwhile, though, Bush’s lawyers are filing what are called “signing statements.” In these documents, Bush essentially rewrites the bill he has just signed, asserting that the Constitution gives him the right as president to ignore sections of any bill he doesn’t agree with. In the case of torture, President Bush reserves the right to inflict that on prisoners if he thinks it’s necessary. Congress can like it or lump it. So much for the separation of powers. Bush has not only been circumventing Congress by revising laws to please himself, he has usurped the Supreme Court by using his personal interpretation of the Constitution as justification for his signing statements. Apparently this is what he means by wanting to limit the size of the federal government: fold the judicial and legislative branches into one, all-powerful dictator, er, presidency. If it feels like someone’s sticking an elbow in your ribs, it may be Sandra Day O’Connor. But O’Connor has hardly been alone in expressing her misgivings about the state of the union. No presidency in memory, including the disgraced Richard Nixon, has inspired such open contempt from as many quarters as has Bush Jr. Although driven from office, Nixon still retained the respect of policymakers. This made his fall a tragedy in the eyes of many, friends and foes alike. Bush has no such saving grace. In a recent poll, no less than 80 percent of historians judged Bush to be among the worst presidents in American history, down there with Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover. Bush is now under attack from both the left and the right. The list of former allies that have criticized him because of the war, his fiscal policies or the arrogance of his management style has been staggering — from the libertarian Cato Institute and William F. Buckley, to Reagan economist Bruce Bartlett and Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan. No less a true believer than George Will has pleaded with Bush to “stop pressing.” These voices have become parts of a larger chorus of dissent and disillusion that cuts across an amazing cross-section of this country’s culture. Attacks on Bush are viral now, woven into late night comedy routines, pop music and movies. It’s as if, five years after the shock of Sept. 11, Americans have awakened from a fitful sleep to find themselves in a country they neither fully recognize nor particularly like. Increasingly, it seems the only friends this president has left is that zealous minority who are convinced their fortunes are inextricably bound to Bush, not by political ideas, but by his regime’s white knuckle grip on power. These are the kinds of Americans who thought King George was right in 1776 and joined the German-American Bund in the 1930s because they thought Hitler had the answer for Europe. We have reached a particularly fraught historical moment. It’s not just that Bush’s poll numbers continue to tank. While that’s bad enough, low numbers have, as Bush is quick to remind us, bedeviled other presidents. What is unusual is that so many thoughtful citizens who might otherwise disagree about what’s best for this country have begun to share a deep uneasiness about where things are headed. Whether this matters is the question before us. As of now, the answer is unclear. Hear David each week on the Naked NUVO Podcast, www.nuvo.net/multi.