The debate is an ancient one. Where does sovereignty rest? Is the sovereign concept embedded in the voice and actions of the leader(s) (the crown) of nation-states or does sovereignty rest in the voice of the people and/or the elected representatives of the people.The Bush White House opts, it seems to me, for the former. As President, Bush acts as if he is “The Sovereign.” In terms that Carl Schmitt, a problematic German political philosopher and one that has been strangely adopted by both the right and the left, proposes: “that people will only be responsible for what they are if the reality of death and conflict remain present.” In Schmitt’s view, the sovereign is the agent of state control over the lives of citizens even to the extent of control over life and death. Schmitt’s posture, adopted by Giorgio Agamben, places sovereign power in a state of exception so that life itself, under the control of the sovereign, becomes bare–not subject to sacrifice yet able to be killed without the killer charged with or guilty of homicide. Not only is the sovereign, in these terms, above the law, he is the law. The sovereign holds power because he wears the crown which grants him the power of life and death over all of the subjects of his sovereign power.
As Bush prepares to veto the legislation funding troops in Iraq that contains a non-binding withdrawal timetable, Bush places himself in the position of agent of control over life and death without regard to the will of the electorate. While the Constitution of the United States affords the executive with the power of the veto pen, that power in itself creates the exception and fuels the debate as to where sovereignty rests. The checks and balances embedded in the Constitution act as a check on both imperial sovereignty and on popular sovereignty often making for a cumbersome political exchange.
Bush no longer enjoys a rubber-stamp Congress. The present Congress was elected as an expression of the electorate’s frustration with the war in Iraq. The Congress is acting as the elected voice of the electorate, placing the Congress on the other side of the debate–that sovereignty rests on the voice of the people and is expressed through their elected representatives.
As Americans the stakes here are quite high. The choice is really between the absolute power of the executive and the combined power of the people to self-govern. What is looming is a constitutional crisis, something that George W. Bush has engaged in more than once. Personally, I feel much safer not trusting absolute power to the King, especially to George W. Bush, who, over and over, has demonstrated poor judgment in office. But Bush isn’t alone on this score. During the Watergate scandal while prosecuting a very unpopular war, Richard Nixon plunged the nation into a similar Constitutional crisis over issues of executive privilege–an issue of power and control.
Just as an aside, it is ironic that “Democrats said the bill was on track to arrive on the president’s desk on Tuesday, the anniversary of Bush’s announcement aboard the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on,” Bush said on May 1, 2003, in front of a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner.”
Perhaps Mr. Bush needs to rethink his posture on Iraq; perhaps listening to the people for a change might be invigorating.