Tennessean Editorial: To Hell with the Constitution and Democracy

underbusOpening with the premise that President Obama “made a mistake” seeking Congressional approval for military action, A remarkable (and not in a good way) editorial on Syria in this morning’s Tennessean urges Congress to give him that approval anyway. The argument along the way essentially throws democracy and the U.S. Constitution under the bus. Let’s deconstruct.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Americans do not want to get involved in a civil war in Syria. Our strategic interest is hard to discern; there seems to be little prospect for an outcome that makes Syria a better place; and we absolutely do not want to see American troops engaged on the ground.

So of course Obama should launch the missiles! Why should the fact that public support for authorization fails by an astonishing 61-26% tally in a new poll matter?

His decision to plead for permission from Congress to do his job has emboldened Assad, who, in an interview with Charlie Rose, threatened that the U.S. would face “every action” from several parties in the region if it launched strikes.

Please. This is not a “plea for permission” from Congress; it is a request for authorization from the branch of government that has responsibility under the Constitution. The editorial seems to be suggesting that a president should ignore the Constitution because an unhinged madman has (shockingly!) issued nebulous threats in a televised interview.

The president’s waffling has exacerbated the risk to the U.S. and its allies and made the world less safe.

So now deferring to constitutional principles is “waffling.” In the Tennessean‘s way of thinking, real leaders ignore the law.

Having thrown Congress an easy pitch, it is understandable that the president’s political opponents should wish to take advantage of his lack of judgment and hand him an embarrassing defeat — especially when their constituents, regardless of political party, want nothing to do with a military response. But Congress should resist the urge and should give the president authority to act.

So Members of Congress should ignore the overwhelming sentiment of their constituents? Yes, elected officials shouldn’t govern exclusively on the basis of public opinion. But on the matter of making war, surely overwhelming public disapproval should carry the day.

Given the tenor and increasing power of our congressional delegation, this is an excellent chance to demonstrate Tennessee’s leadership and willingness to rise above partisan politics when American authority is under attack.

Not sure what “increasing power” they have in mind, and “rise above partisan politics” doesn’t even pass the laugh test. Yes, Sen. Bob Corker has become an influential voice of reason on some key issues, but the rest of the Tennessee delegation has little to show in the way of important committee leadership posts or significant legislative accomplishments. A few of them get a fair amount of talk show action, but as often as not that’s because they have embarrassed us on the national stage.

Whether the president chooses to launch the strikes he had previously planned, or chooses to use the threat of those authorized strikes to force Assad to abide by international sanctions against chemical weapons — a path that Russia has offered — America should not be in a position where we have hobbled our options.

The notion that honoring the Constitution’s separation of powers represents “hobbling our options” is nothing short of a defense of oligarchy. Ignoring the rule of law when it is inconvenient is the hallmark of tyranny. It’s disappointing to see editorialists at the fish wrapper, who alarmed many of us with their lurch to the right endorsing Mitt Romney last year, now dip their toes in the waters of fascism.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

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