Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 10, 2009

NOT EVEN CLOSE.... The LA Times' Andrew Malcolm played a little fast and loose yesterday, commenting on President Obama's directive on Bush's signing statements. (thanks to reader J.R. for the heads-up)

Bill Clinton actually used signing documents way more than George W. Bush. But No. 42 is a Democrat and his wife currently works for Obama. So No. 44 is on a big tear right now to distance himself instead from No. 43, the Republican, who's back in Texas and doesn't care but just hearing his name trashed makes Democrats feel good. [...]

Obama doesn't say he won't ever use signing documents. He just says he'll work with Congress about them. Which means he will, of course, sign some, but right now he wants today's news coverage to be on more change to sort-of believe in.

No, this wasn't written by the Republican National Committee to be read on-air by Fox News personalities; it just seems like it.

Did Clinton use signing statements "way more than George W. Bush"? It's a highly misleading claim, based on a count of the individual documents, instead of the number of provisions to which the signing statements have been applied. In reality, Bush "broke all records" while abusing this presidential tool, "using signing statements to challenge about 1,200 sections of bills over his eight years in office, about twice the number challenged by all previous presidents combined."

To hear Malcolm tell it, President Obama is just playing a silly partisan game, "trashing" Bush when Clinton was worse, just to make Democrats "feel good." This is lazy, partisan, and disingenuous analysis.

What's more, Obama didn't rule out the use of signing statements, which Malcolm concludes makes yesterday's announcement "change to sort-of believe in." This, again, is misleading. Obama's decision is entirely in line with historic presidential authority. The problem isn't with the signing statements themselves -- the practice has been around for nearly 200 years -- but with Bush's unprecedented abuse of the presidential tool. The 43rd president took the practice to new heights (or depths, as the case may be), using signing statements to ignore parts of laws he didn't like.

That Obama might, at some point, use signing statements is not controversial, and certainly doesn't point to more of the same. Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

Because 'lazy, partisan, disingenuous' arguments work.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on March 10, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks For posting this and for drawing attention to Malcolm's perchant for shading the truth rightward. I'm not against a person expressing their opinion, but presenting opinion as objective reporting is rather dishonest. Malcolm does this sort of thing daily. Thanks.

Posted by: BBaptiste on March 10, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

"Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery."

A mystery? It's no mystery when a disingenuous liar defends a more disingenuous liar by lying. It's what Republicans do all the time.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on March 10, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

"Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery."

Only in the sense that it's not entirely clear whether he's misleading his readers on purpose, or whether he's lazily forwarding a chain email from a right-wing think tank.

Posted by: AJL on March 10, 2009 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunate choice of words there Steve. I am a liberal and a democrat and a Bill fan, but even I think that no one can beat his record on using the Presidential tool.

Posted by: gregor on March 10, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Malcolm - he wants to keep what's left of his job at the neighborhood advertiser formerly known as the Los Angeles Times, and he has to do so by pleasing the Jewish Nazi who's run the paper on the rocks when he financed the buyout 100 percent with debt. Sam Zell has been zell-ous in promoting right wingers at the paper, sending a semi-literate hack like Peter Nicholas to be the D.C. correspondent (Nicholas is the one who got everything wrong in his reporting on Obama during the campaign, so naturally he'd be the right guy for the new job).

The neighborhood advertiser formerly known as the Los Angeles Times doesn't even qualify as acceptable litter-box liner anymore, but the morons of the media and the villagers will still continue to take it seriously due to its previous reputation when actual real reporters worked for it.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 10, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

"Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery."

It's a mystery only if you are a wet-behind-the-ears, clueless naif.

Posted by: rich on March 10, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Is this not another example of the alternate reality in which the corporate media reside?

Saw Chuck Todd on a talking head show last night. He expressed major surprise over polling results about what Americans consider 'wealthy'. Per his poll 80% of Americans believe that they would be wealthy if they made $150K a year. Todd said he expected the amount to be way over the $250K a year that Obama is seeking to raise taxes on.

Andrew Malcolm is working for what used to be a respectable newspaper & now has become the printed equivilent of ABC. Shallow reporting with a regular suspicion that sources within the rethug party are providing guidance on stories to pursue.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 10, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

How about a little more depth on the use of signing statements over the last 200 years & how Clinton & previous Presidents used them?

Posted by: sidewinder on March 10, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

gregor,
Being the liberal and democrat that you are, are you basing your message of Bill's signing statements on facts?

Posted by: IslandGyal on March 10, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

No, this wasn't written by the Republican National Committee to be read on-air by Fox News personalities;...

how do you know it wasn't written by the RNC given that word-for-word propagandizing republican talking points has occurred by corporate media?

In the absence of facts to the contrary, and knowing that corporate media does in fact take talking points from republicans, why would anyone assume that republicans aren't involved in MSM dissembling and deceptions favoring republicans and undermining democrats.

Posted by: zoot on March 10, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Steve: Please send a letter to the editor of the LA Times with the numbers you have cited concerning signing statements. It would be a shame for only lefties like me to be reading your point.

Posted by: Iowan on March 10, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

sidewinder asked what I thought was a legitimate question: how about a little deeper analysis here?

Here's a link to an American Bar Association analysis: http://www.abanet.org/media/docs/signstatereport.pdf
Haven't read it, but it sure LOOKS authoritative!

And there's Charlie Savage's Pulitzer prize-winning articles in the Boston Globe on the same topic. Go do your own lookup.

Posted by: artsmith on March 10, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

If one peruses the incomparable archives of "Daily Howler", Bob Somerby wrote about Malcolm in 2002. Malcolm had joined with such as the very right wing David Reinhard, who was the Right's Voice at the Oregonian at that time, to drool over Ann Coulter's useage of footnotes. Malcolm had semi-retired from the NYT to work for then Gov. Racicot (R) Montana, then went to work for the Bush Administration before jumping to the Board of the LAT. This Malcolm is definitely not in the middle.

His "way more" reminds me a a Valley Girl type working for a Vegas TV station during the Iranian-Iraqi war - She said there had been a major attack with many killed and a "whole bunch more" wounded. Kept waiting for "For Sure"

Posted by: berttheclock on March 10, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Andrew Malcolm is the same bright light that brought us the LA Times piece on how Alan Keyes (!) put the Obama birth certificate controversy (!) "back on the front burner."

If he were any dumber, he'd be Jonah Goldberg.

Posted by: Not Andrew Malcolm Again on March 10, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Being the liberal and democrat that you are, are you basing your message of Bill's signing statements on facts?

It took a couple of reads, but I think gregor is talking about a slightly different, er, tool that Clinton became famous for using where he shouldn't.

Wink wink nudge nudge ifyouknowwhatImean.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 10, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

The problem with just about every discussion about "signing statements" is that no one ever really explains what the substantive effect is. Yes, Bush and all other presidents before him have used signing statements to express disagreement about legislation they are signing.

So? Think about the Line Item Veto for a second. That was a specific law that said the President could decline to spend money that had been appropriated by Congress on an item by item basis. Guess what?

Ruled unconstitutional. The very idea that President Bush, or any President, Obama or Washington, whoever, can simply decline to enforce a law because he doesn't like it is nonsense. And in fact would be an impeachable offense in my take: "Faithfully execute" the laws is the primary duty of the President of the United States. He doesn't get to pick and choose as to which ones they are.

So exactly which laws did the Executive Branch, of those 1200 sections, ignore on the authority of the signing statements. There are general references here and there, but nothing specific.

Until somebody can detail how laws were ignored because somebody in the Justice Department, or Homeland Security, or maybe just the Small Business Administration, though they were authorized to do so because of a signing statement, the whole thing is so much anti-Bush stupidity.

How about some journalism? Just throwing around this nonsense is probably why "journalism" is a dying profession -- it's much easier to throw around accusations than to actually provide specific information. Welcome to Obama land -- substance is an aside, much easier to throw around adjectives.

Posted by: J. Saxon on March 10, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery.

You don't seem to be paying attention to the Secular Animist.

Posted by: qwerty on March 10, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Andrew Malcolm is the same bright light that brought us the LA Times piece on how Alan Keyes (!) put the Obama birth certificate controversy (!) "back on the front burner."

Malcolm is also the guy who just happened to wonder why a guy in a homeless shelter had a cameraphone to take a picture of Michelle Obama.

"Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action." -- Ian Fleming

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 10, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Andrew Malcolm's LA Times bio says that he is former press aide to Laura Bush. So he has professional experience as a Republican mouthpiece -- only now he's being paid by the LA Times.

Incidentally, i've sent numerous comments to Malcolm's articles, criticizing him for partisan bias -- and strangely, they do not get posted by the LA Times.

Posted by: tkd on March 10, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's a highly misleading claim, based on a count of the individual documents, instead of the number of provisions to which the signing statements have been applied. In reality, Bush "broke all records" while abusing this presidential tool, "using signing statements to challenge about 1,200 sections of bills over his eight years in office, about twice the number challenged by all previous presidents combined."

As sidewinder asked...
I'd like to know how it was misleading.

Did Clinton assist in the slippery slope to Bush's Reich?


I've never been a big fan of the phrase "We weren't nearly as bad!" in lieu of appropriate shame. I leave that to the other guys.


Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 10, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

sidewinder, tooweary -- according to the Wikipedia article on this, Clinton only issued more signing statements than Bush if you count all statements issued when signing a bill -- including rhetorical statements designed to motivate constituencies. So it seems to me that if Clinton signed a bill and issued a statement saying "This bill will bring puppies and kittens to everyone," Malcolm counts this as a signing statement.

Of course this is ridiculous -- the troublesome signing statements are the ones that are supposed to raise objections to the bill being signed, and Clinton issued many fewer of those than Bush. Perhaps 70 of those is 70 too many, but Clinton issued fewer than Reagan or either Bush.

Posted by: Matt Weiner on March 10, 2009 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Handy visual: When you think of Bush's use of signing statements, think of Joss Ackland at the end of Lethal Weapon 2, shooting Mel Gibson over and over and over again, holding up his ID & sneering "diplomatic immuuuuuuunehteh!"
Remember that? Jerk move, right? Complete bastardization of why people get diplomatic immunity, right?

Now imagine Malcolm as the jackass skinhead in the theatre next to you who thought Ackland was the misunderstood hero of the movie.

You're welcome.

Posted by: slappy magoo on March 10, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Remember that? Jerk move, right? Complete bastardization of why people get diplomatic immunity, right?"

True enough. But remember, Danny Glover shot the guy, completely ignoring the fact that it was murder under the law -- in fact ignoring the law entirely, much like Bush has been charged with doing in pursuit of Al-Qaeda, certainly at least as nasty a bunch as the South African guy from Lethal Weapon -- yeah, just a movie, fiction. Much like the charges against Bush though -- fabricated.

Posted by: J. Saxon on March 10, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

I clicked over there, and it was listed as an LA TIMES "Blog." What does that even *mean*? Clearly Malcom is making no attempt at objective reportage, nor does he seem overly concerned about the precision of assertions that he alleges to be facts. But, really, what are we to make of the so-called "blog" pages on the websites of newspapers or television networks? Aren't these guys (and they're all guys) just what we used to call columnists, but without having an actual column? And with all due respect to present company, I have the distinct impression that the newspapers and networks themselves don't consider that their bloggers speak with even a tiny bit of the parent-organization's authority. Even so, it's kind of annoying when someone quotes one of these characters with the prefatory phrase, "The LA Times said...."
. . . jim strain in san diego.

Posted by: Jim Strain on March 10, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Ahem to all of the commenters noting that Malcolm is always shading his column deceptively. He's done this through the last few years of campaigns and continues now. I can always count on getting a stomach ache when I read him so I've quit.

Posted by: Kristina on March 10, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Malcolm has disregarded in every sense any canons of journalism going back eight years to his hiring immediately after the Bush campaign in 2000.

WHY the LA Times allows him to continue to drag down the reputation of a once-great American newspaper is beyond me. He must know where the bodies are buried, because, over my past 30 years as a professional, anyone this bad would have been fired for gross malfeasance.

Make that "grotesque" malfeasance.

Posted by: Hart Williams on March 10, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery.

Steve, I respect the hell out of you, and consider you the hardest-working person in the blogosphere, but occasionally some of the things you say are just jaw-droppingly stupid.

There's no mystery here. Malcolm is a paid propagandist. He lies for a living, in the service of his corporate masters.

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on March 10, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Saxon, your opinion might make sense, had Bush been going after al Queda. Instead, he went after lots and lots of brown people, some of them amybe with al Queda connections, others, well, we'll never know how many just thought they were defending their homes, and how many weren't even terrorists, just happened to be where the war with the Brown People occurred. Because Bush locked them all up regardless, with no proof of guilt and no way of proving their innocence. If ignorance is bliss, there must be palm trees and a never-ending supply of Corona in your head.

Posted by: slappy magoo on March 10, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Incidentally, i've sent numerous comments to Malcolm's articles, criticizing him for partisan bias -- and strangely, they do not get posted by the LA Times.

If you can find the "homeless guy with a cell phone" column, the comments are hysterical. About 75% of them are, "Haven't you ever heard of a prepaid cell phone, you idiot?"

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 10, 2009 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

artsmith, thanks for the link to the ABA signing statement report, which was done in 2006. Here are two interesting quotes:

From page 12:
"A look at the Clinton record of the use of the presidential signing statement shows that
President Clinton used the constitutional signing statement less in his two terms than did his predecessor in one (105 to 146), but still more than the Reagan administration (105 to 71)."

And on page 13:
"From the inception of the Republic until 2000, Presidents produced signing statements
containing fewer than 600 challenges to the bills they signed. According to the most recent update, in his one-and-a-half terms so far, President George W. Bush (Bush II) has produced more than 800."

Of course, the truth has a well-known liberal bias. Maybe what Malcolm really meant was, "Clinton READ way more signing statements than Bush II."

Here's the link again:
http://www.abanet.org/media/docs/signstatereport.pdf

Posted by: sabella on March 10, 2009 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

As others have noted, the most common use of signing statements is fluff statements that effectively say, "this is a great new law."

The other traditional use, which can be misused but serves a valid purpose, is for the President to say, "this is how I interpret this passage of the bill and it is on the basis of that interpretation that I am signing it into law".

Doing so gives Congress notice that of how the President will force a bill and give them the opportunity to pass a new bill ammending it if they disagree and get get the new bill past a veto. It also documents the President's view if the exact wording and intent of the legislation becomes an issue in court. Courts typically give signing statements less weight than the record of debate in Congress, but may favor if the signing statement if it more closely matches the actual language of the bill or if there is no clear intent established in the Congressional Record.

Posted by: tanstaafl on March 10, 2009 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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