Why the President believes he is the law

In discussing the most recent round of torture revelations sanctioned by the Bush administration, many are picking up on a phrase that Bush uttered yesterday in his Panama press conference:


PRESIDENT BUSH: Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. The executive branch has the obligation to protect the American people; the legislative branch has the obligation to protect the American people. And we are aggressively doing that. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture. (my emphasis)

Over at the Frameshop, Jeffrey Feldman discusses the implications of the President implying that he is the law as part of a series of posts about the torture scandals (the other two, both worth reading, are here and here.) He states that this view, that the President and his actions are not bound by the Constitution, is wrong and outside of the mainstream. This retort, however, doesn't go far enough.

The frame of being above the law fits well within the right-wing structure of authority (Lakoff's "strict father," for you framing junkies). Tough love, excessive force to prove a point, might makes right, means justify the ends -- these are all part of the ideology. Cowboys and vigilantes (think: Arizona border patrollers) are icons of this accepted frame, and Bush-as-cowboy is certainly nothing new. The problem for progressives is to not reinforce this frame.

We must be structuring our arguments not to say that cowboys and vigilantes are bad people, but to frame them as militant extremists who drool over every chance to use violence as an answer, who are so clouded by a narrow worldview that violence is the only answer for them. To frame them, perhaps controversially, as the Timothy McVeighs of the government.

They are dangerous, violent extremists who are endangering the lives of all Americans with their policies of instutionalized torture and violence, not "bad cowboys" saving the American frontier from the "savages." Don't let them have that frame.
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