It is my conviction that the only strength Bush has ever had was his unwavering insistence in his own near absolute authority. A refusal to ever doubt that one is correct and in charge can carry one very far. However, unless this conviction in one's own abilities is backed by actual abilities, disaster and failure eventually follow. Bush's assertions of competence and authority have always been fantasies. We are seeing that collapsing now.
Consider Bush's threatened veto of the recently passed spending bill for Iraq. Gene Lyons has raised an interesting point, why is Bush threatening a veto rather than use his long standing signing statement. For all of Bush's bluster and confidence over the past several years, he has never had the authority he claims. He was able to assert it and use it only because of a completely servile Republican majority in Congress and a Democratic minority unwilling and/or unable to put forth effective resistance. With the Democrats in Congress not rolling over and offering a fight, Bush's bluster is coming apart. With the Democrats unwilling to roll over he must fall back on the authority he actually has, the veto, not the fake authority he has been claiming, the signing statement.
This brings me to something I've been wondering about for a while now. Why signing statements? That is, why not not-signing statements? Consider what the US Constitution has to say about bills becoming law in Article I, section 7
Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.Note the part I highlighted. If the President doesn't sign the bill it becomes law anyway. So the President could just as well not sign the bill, state why he thinks it should not be signed and let it become law that way. Such a move would be more consistent with the constitution and more honest. I believe that Bush has chosen instead to use signing statements in order to maintain the fantasy that his signature is needed for the bill to become law (it is not) and to assert an equal or even superior status to Congress in making law. It is this fantasy authority of his that is coming down now that the Democrats are asserting themselves in Congress.
Understand that I am not claiming that Bush's power and authority are going to immediately vanish. His fantastic claims to authority are falling away, his actual authority, as President, will remain and be effective. Also, he will continue to fight for his war, he will not be giving up. He will continue to fight because that is all he has, his unwillingness to ever change his mind. That may seem an odd claim, but there appears to be about 20-30% of the population that admires that steadfastness above all else, and at this point, that steadfastness is all Bush has. If he gives it up, he is nothing to everybody.