Thursday, August 18, 2005

Using the veto

Joseph Britt posting over at Daniel Drezner's site while the latter is away posted this interesting piece on whether George Bush is a strong President. I don't really have much to comment on the substance of the post, but rather a reflection on one consideration of it. Britt writes:

Consider the veto, used by every President since Garfield to block enactment of legislation the President opposed. Bush has never used the veto even once. By contrast Bill Clinton vetoed 37 bills in eight years, Ronald Reagan 78 in eight years, Bush's father 44 in four years. ... One could argue that this merely signifies that Bush has such mastery over political Washington that Congress only passes the legislation he wants. To me it looks more like he has a talent for surrender.

Past Republican Presidents faced off against Congressional advocates of more spending. Bush doesn't. It doesn't matter what kind of spending, or how large the deficit is. If Congress can agree on a highway bill, a farm bill, or any appropriations measure, Bush will sign it. Some of the traditional Republican rhetoric on behalf of small government and fiscal responsibility remains in Bush's public statements, but he doesn't mean any of it.

Myself, I think it shows several things - not least the fact that President and Party seem to be more one and the same with this President than my impression is existed in the past. However, whatever the precise reasons for Bush's non-use of the veto there are some effects that need to be considered.

In mediaeval times lords made a point of regularly exercising their prerogatives, for fear of having them lapse and their non-application becoming custom. One fears that a presidential veto runs a not dis-similar risk. The veto was clearly an ordinary part of recent previous presidencies. A little less under Clinton than his two immediate predecessors, but still at an average of four and a half a year. Important events in and of themselves, but as a larger picture humdrum, routine.

Were George Bush to use the veto it would be anything but routine. It would be exceptional. The problem with the exceptional is that it brings an added level of controversy. And makes it harder to use. So, I wonder if a side effect of this could be the near-removal of the veto from American politics. I guess we will actually have to wait until 2012, or perhaps until 2020, before we can say whether there have been any medium-term effects of this peculiararity of this President.

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