More from the Washington Post
Matthew J. Franck
mfranck at radford.edu
Sat Dec 10 12:23:38 PST 2005
I do not know it to be a fact, and I doubt it to be the case, that
"the Bush administration seeks to silence contrary voices in the
government." At least I regard its efforts to control the "message"
out of the executive branch to be well within normal boundaries of
historic practice by presidential administrations. And well it
should seek that reasonable control; I seem to recall something about
the unity of the executive somewhere in the Federalist.
I can relieve Sandy's mind on whether I regard "constitutional law"
as "what courts do" and nothing more. I do not. But I think that if
we are to embark on a discussion of the propriety of Pres. Bush's
rhetorical practices when speaking before military audiences and
offering fairly mild-mannered criticism of unnamed "Democrats," we
are then having a conversation with only the most tenuous connection
to some high-level abstractions about what "constitutionalism"
means. We are not at all talking about the normal subject matter of
this list, which is the meaning of the Constitution (fixed or fluctuating).
Does Sandy mean to suggest that some core principle of constitutional
republicanism is jeopardized by this sort of presidential
speechifying? If so, then we have teetered on the brink of the
collapse of constitutionalism countless times in our history (times
that I have shamefully failed to notice), beginning with the Whiskey
Rebellion if not earlier. Doesn't this become a Chicken Little
routine after a while?
Matthew J. Franck
Professor and Chairman
Department of Political Science
P.O. Box 6945
Radford, VA 24142-6945
e-mail <mailto:mfranck at radford.edu>mfranck at radford.edu
At 02:36 PM 12/10/2005, Sanford Levinson wrote:
>Mark takes a more moderate line, plausibly arguing that a) the
>president's speeches are irresponsibly partisan, and b) that the
>Bush administration unwisely seeks to silence contrary voices in the
>government. I disagree with both arguments but find them
>respectable. [Matt, do you disagree, empirically, that the Bush
>administration seeks to silence contrary voices in the government,
>or, normatively, that it unwise for them to do so (or both)?] I
>note, however, that stated thus, they cease to be arguments about
>constitutional law, so I will say no more about them on this list.
> I genuinely don't know why "they cease to be arguments about
> constitutional law," unless one is a Holmesian who reduces law to
> predictions about courts (I agree that no court will, or should,
> enjoin Bush from using military bases as venues for partisan
> speeches). But, as I wrote earlier, I take it that one of the most
> basic issues facing any constitutional regime is the relationship
> between civilian leaders and the military and the absolute
> importance of keeping the military "above" "low politics" (even if,
> as sophisticates, we know that this might be a childish
> fantasy). It is especially dispiriting if Matt believes we're not
> talking about constitutional law because he is a political
> scientist who ought to be immune from the worst pathologiy of legal
> academics, which is the reduction of "constitutional law" to "what
> courts do."
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