Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency

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In the months and years following September 11th, Senator Robert C. Byrd viewed with dismay what he considers a "slow unraveling of the people's liberties," a time when dissenting voices were stilled and awesome power swung suddenly to the president to fight a "war on terror." The way down this path violates historic American principles. It provides no regard for the balance of powers or the role of Congress; it invades our privacy; it makes no attempt to educate the public and build consensus. It displays little...
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In the months and years following September 11th, Senator Robert C. Byrd viewed with dismay what he considers a "slow unraveling of the people's liberties," a time when dissenting voices were stilled and awesome power swung suddenly to the president to fight a "war on terror." The way down this path violates historic American principles. It provides no regard for the balance of powers or the role of Congress; it invades our privacy; it makes no attempt to educate the public and build consensus. It displays little regard for our environment. It grapples little with the realities of people who have to work for a living, rear children or care for aging parents, and cope with physical ailments -- problems that plague our country and cry out for attention. Swept along, we have entered a war under a new and dangerous doctrine without proper consideration, and we have rushed dangerous legislation through Congress willy-nilly. We have a White House that favors the rich and the well-connected, lavishes tax cuts on big businesses, and pushes through unfair tax legislation.

Most serious, this administration has, in greater measure than ever before, operated under a cloak of secrecy, which is deeply antithetical to the principles of our nation. For far too long, argues Senator Byrd, too many of us have passively gone along, aiding and abetting a dangerous process. Now is the time, he urges, to regain the Constitution that our fore-fathers so wisely left us, a time to return to the values and principles that made America great. Losing America is a ringing call to action by one of the country's longest-serving and most respected legislators, one who does not shrink from warning the people of the sinister agenda of a power-seeking White House.

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Editorial Reviews

Sydney M. Milkis
In truth, [Byrd's] sermon should be taken seriously by anyone who believes that republican government ultimately rests on public debate and resolution regarding the highest acts of sovereignty.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Attacks on the Bush presidency have proliferated in recent months, but few critics bring to the argument the weight of Senator Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has served under 11 presidents. Few combine his scholar's understanding of constitutional government with the experience gained in his nearly half-century of Senate tenure. Of course, it must be noted that Byrd is a veteran Democratic leader now attacking a Republican president during an election year. In his view, Bush and his advisers-Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Perle and Cheney-are dangerous not merely because their policies are ill conceived, but because they are intent on usurping the powers of the "the People's Branch of Government," Congress-refusing, for instance, to let Tom Ridge testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the proposed Department of Homeland Security. To Byrd the Constitution's checks and balances and the powers of the legislative branch, including the power of the purse and the power to declare war, have kept America a safe and functioning democracy. He argues, offering a series of instances, that the Bush administration is systematically, relentlessly and with stubborn arrogance making a mockery of these constitutional mandates through subterfuge, warmongering and intimidation of a Congress that is "cowed, timid, and deferential." Byrd is forthrightly critical of President Bush, charging him with "political mendacity" and saying that, in comparison with the other presidents he has known, "Bush #43 was in a class by himself-ineptitude supreme." This volume is a searing criticism, informed by Byrd's knowledge of history, leavened with his vast experience and written with his legendary rhetorical flourish. (July 26) FYI: Hillary Rodham Clinton will appear with Senator Byrd at an event in New York City on July 26, and Ted Kennedy will appear with him on July 27 at an event in Boston, during the Democratic Convention. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What's happening to our liberties post-9/11? Musings from the longtime West Virginia senator. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"I do not want to remember my country as being on the side of evil": the distinguished gentleman from West Virginia-whose service and tenure in the Senate are legendary-pulls tight his toga and renders withering scorn unto Caesar. September 11 was not just about terrorist attacks on a sorely unprepared US, urges Senator Byrd. It was also "a day which would turn the life of our nation upside down and transform a lackluster, inarticulate, visionless President into a national and international leader, nearly unquestioned by the media or by members of either party." As the ashes settled on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, this seemingly inept president, the soi-disant uniter, had forced legislation through that effectively gave him extra-constitutional powers: a line-item veto that hid billions of dollars from Congressional oversight; a shadow government that "has been described as an ‘indefinite precaution,' which can mean anything"; overstuffed discretionary funds for the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney; spending streams directed to Bush buddies and the Halliburtons of the world. Couple this newfound financial independence of the executive branch with the administration's combative, thoroughly politicized stance-and no administration, writes Byrd, has been so driven by ideology-and you have the recipe for imperium. Thoroughly schooled in the classics, Byrd needs no rhetorical stretches to make that analogy, but his condemnation of Dubya as a kind of bush-league Tiberius rises to Ciceronian heights all the same: "Bush's power has been wielded with arrogance, calculation, and disdain for dissenting views. . . . There is virtually no attempt to build consensus by the hard work of reachingacross the aisle to find common ground." The self-proclaimed uniter is in fact a divider, and a corrupt one at that. "Many early symptoms that heralded the Roman decline may be seen in our own nation today," writes Byrd. Few students and practitioners of politics are better equipped to make such assessments. An outstanding broadside from a true patriot.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641747489
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/25/2005
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Senator Robert C. Byrd(1917-2010) of West Virginia, author of a four-volume history of the U.S. Senate, served in the Congress for fifty-seven years, fifty-one of them as a senator.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : losing America 11
Ch. 1 Changing the tone 17
Ch. 2 An unpatriotic act 37
Ch. 3 Worms in the wood 56
Ch. 4 Tough talk and Afghanistan 82
Ch. 5 Homeland insecurity 98
Ch. 6 Confronting the "axis of evil" 121
Ch. 7 "Out of business" 153
Ch. 8 Selling the war 178
Afterword : and the rains came 209
Nine speeches from the floor of the Senate 255
Black Thursday (May 17, 2001) 255
A lesson from history (October 10, 2002) 263
America unguarded (February 11, 2003) 269
We stand passively mute (February 12, 2003) 277
A troubling speech (May 6, 2003) 283
The emperor has no clothes (October 17, 2003) 287
A budget of gimmicks, false promises, and unrealistic expectations (February 27, 2004) 294
The people deserve the truth (September 30, 2004) 303
Nomination of Condoleezza Rice (January 25, 2005) 307
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Senator Robert Byrd

Barnes & Noble.com: Your book Losing America is subtitled "Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency." What prompted you to put pen to paper?

Senator Robert Byrd: For more than half a century, I have repeatedly taken a sacred oath to protect this Republic and our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. What I have seen in this Bush White House, in the programs and policies of President Bush and his team, threatens the foundations of the Constitution and of this country. I could not sit idly by and allow that to happen. The American people need to wake up to what is happening to their country. In writing this book, I sound the alarm.

B&N.com: The economy seems to be picking up nationally. How is it doing in your home state of West Virginia?

RB: West Virginia is a proud state, but not a rich one. John F. Kennedy showed the world the problems in West Virginia and in Appalachia when he was running for president. Since those days, we have made significant progress. But, in too many places, progress means catching up to the 20th century, not moving into the 21st. There are places in Appalachia without running water, paved roads, or electricity. There are families who must travel for miles to see a doctor. We have made progress, but there is still much work to do to help West Virginia and many other states.

B&N.com: How do you feel about the candidacy of John Kerry? Would he make a good president, in your view?

RB: Senator John Kerry would make a very good president because he understands the basic decency which Americans value. He is not a divider. He understands that we need to come together, that we need to overcome the many obstacles that separate our country and strengthen those common bonds that make us all Americans. The Bush White House has worked to gain political benefit by splitting America apart. John Kerry will bring our people together again. It is a healing that we desperately need.

B&N.com: Since you wrote your book, the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal has emerged. What's your take on it?

RB: The prison abuse at Abu Ghraib is despicable. Those responsible need to be punished. But the abuse there is a symptom of a larger problem, namely, the Bush White House's overall lack of planning for postwar Iraq and its penchant for secrecy. What has become increasingly clear is that the Bush White House planned for the war, but never planned for the chaos that has erupted afterward.

The United States needs help in Iraq. We need a plan that will bring relief to our overburdened soldiers by attracting significantly more foreign troops to Iraq, and bring relief to our taxpayers by attracting financial assistance for reconstruction from the international community. But the effort to get support has been hampered by too much White House tough talk, by running roughshod over our allies, and by false claims of weapons of mass destruction and hollow allusions to Iraq's ties to 9/11 that led to this war. What happened at Abu Ghraib has further tarnished our country's image and made efforts to get support harder. It has made our claim to be liberators not occupiers sound very hollow, indeed.

B&N.com: Your book includes some of your dynamic Senate speeches on the direction of the nation. What's been the general reaction to them?

RB: People from across this country stop me in hallways, call me on the phone, and write letters and send emails to me to thank me for standing up for principle, for giving voice to their concerns and their fears, and to encourage me to keep up the fight. They tell me that too few senators are willing to speak against the wrongheaded policies of this Bush White House, and they are right.

B&N.com: You've worked with many presidents. Which one was your personal favorite, and why?

RB: As a long-serving member of Congress, I have worked with 11 presidents, starting with President Truman. I took the oath of office in the House of Representatives on January 3, 1953. President Truman had 17 days left in his term. There was something to admire about every one.

I especially liked Harry Truman and his philosophy of "The Buck Stops Here." We don't have that attitude in the White House today. If there is a problem, it is always someone else's fault. If there is a bad decision, the decision maker never steps up to the plate and says, "Yes, I made a mistake. I was wrong." That plainspoken truth is missing too often in politicians today.

B&N.com: You claim that the Bush administration rushed to war in Iraq. Why do you think that was so?

RB: The Bush White House made a political decision that September 11th presented an opportunity to attack, without provocation, the sovereign State of Iraq. The war in Iraq did not have to be fought. It was the wrong war, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.

Since the march to war began, and even yet today, the president and his team waved the bloody shirt of 9/11 and then subtly shifted the blame to Iraq. The only problem is that the president's attempts to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks had no basis in fact. By speaking of al Qaeda in one breath and Iraq in the next, a construct for confusing the American people about the real threat to our country was devised. And this strategy worked: at one point, seven in ten Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11th attacks. The American people were led to believe that there were Iraqis who flew the planes into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, but there were none.

In January 2002, White House political adviser Karl Rove unveiled his plan to use the war against terrorism for partisan electoral advantage. The White House rode that political bandwagon right through Congress in October 2002, securing a war resolution in the weeks just before a major election. The bandwagon then bypassed the United Nations, alienating our friends and allies, and charged into Baghdad, powered by a national security strategy based on President Bush's doctrine for preemptive war.

The inspectors were on the ground, doing their job, and making progress. The White House hype about weapons of mass destruction was no more than a rhetorical on-ramp to get this country on the road to war. The president saw a political advantage to war, and to war we went.

B&N.com: In your view, did Congress specifically authorize Bush to go to war?

RB: Yes, and in the most irresponsible way. When Congress authorized the president to use force in Iraq, it handed too much power to the president. Congress ignored the responsibilities laid out by the Framers, and instead handed off its exclusive constitutional power to declare war. We put the power to make such an awesome decision -- the decision to start war -- in the hands of one man. That vote flies directly in the face of the intent of the Framers, who never believed that one man should be entrusted with such authority. With that vote, the Congress bought into the president's propaganda. This giveaway of the constitutional power to declare war must be reversed.

If members of Congress are willing to step away from their constitutional responsibilities, the American people will increasingly expect the president to be the source of all authority. In the days since September 11, 2001, we have seen power shift to the executive branch. Without a Congress willing to stand up for its constitutional powers, and without a public that understands the importance of equal branches of government and separation of powers, the people's liberties will be in increasing danger.

It will take maximum effort to preserve the constitutional powers of the legislative branch. It will take members who understand its reason for being. Citizens must know enough about history and about their Constitution to value the special qualities of the Congress. And it will take leaders in the Congress who guard its powers and authorities and resist succumbing to expediency and extreme partisanship.

B&N.com: If you were granted a frank and open meeting with the president, what would you tell him?

RB: I would be straight with the president. When he came to Washington, he said that he wanted to change the tone of politics. During his inaugural speech, he quoted Scripture and gave me hope that he would work to heal the divisions of this nation. I thought I saw humility, but instead arrogance has emerged. The Bush administration has sought to divide, to operate in secret, and to widen the gaps between Americans.

A president is supposed to challenge us to reach for our better angels, to advocate policies that lift America up and move us forward. This president has failed in that responsibility. If anything, he has set this nation back.

B&N.com: You've been in the Senate for a very long time. Do you ever wish you'd just gotten out?

RB: For me, public service is a noble profession. And where can one better serve this country than in its highest elective body? I often quote Roman history, and this question reminds me of a quote from Majorian, who, when he was made emperor of the West in the year 457, said that he was a prince who "still glories in the name of Senator." I share Majorian's passion, and glory in the name of Senator.

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