The Constitution seems pretty straightforward on the subject.
Section 8 of Article I says "The Congress shall have Power.
. .to declare War."
But last week President Bush and his entourage maintained
that he can go to war with Iraq whenever he wants towith or without
Congressional approval. Their argument was that the second President
Bush doesn't have to get Congress to approve of war in Iraq in 2002
because the first President Bush got Congress to approve of war in
Iraq in 1991.
The ancient Greeks had a word for the condition that
produces that kind of thinking: hubris. It means a kind of madness
that grows out of overweening pride and ambition.
George W. Bush is particularly susceptible to hubris because
he's been treated as a legacy for too long.
I use the word "legacy" in the odd sense it's used by
fraternities and sororities to designate a pledge who got in not by
merit but by connections with an influential alum.
In Young Georgeís case, we all know who the influential alum is.
Back in 1961, Young George followed his father into the
snitziest prep school in the country, Phillips Academy in Andover,
Mass. He was 15 and he was the school's head cheerleader. He had fun.
In 1964, he followed his father into Yale, into his father's
fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and into the exclusive secret
society, Skull and Bones. Here's how exclusive it was: William F.
Buckley, Jr. was a member.
And four years later, at the height of the Vietnam War,
Young George, son of a genuine WWII hero, got into the 147th Fighter
Group of the Texas Air National Guard, the outfit some called the
"Champagne Unit." Its mission, Bill Minutaglio quotes a member as
saying, was "to shoot down Russian bombers if they came across our
"It was an unofficial rule," Minutaglio writes in his
biography of the current President, "that most people joining the
147th in the mid-1960s would not be going to Vietnam." The roster
included the sons of Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen and Texas Governor
John Connally, as well as several players for the Dallas Cowboys.
So George W. got to fly F-102 jets all around Texas, looking
for Russian bombers to shoot down. It was more fun even than being a
And a couple of decades later, when his father was
President, Young George, hitherto a business flop, was given a
sweetheart deal by Harken Energy that led to a chain of good fortune:
ownership of the Texas Rangers, the Governorship of Texas, and the
Presidency of the United States.
Cynics say none of that would have happened had Young George
not had the first President Bush as his father.
The Truth, Mainly
Here's my point: Young George believes it's his birthright
to follow in his father's footsteps. His father got congressional
approval to wage war in 1991; ergo, Young George, by virtue of his
family legacy, already has congressional approval to wage war in 2002.
Hubris comes about from overplaying your hand, overreaching
I can identify with Young George because I too, by virtue of
family legacy, once overplayed my hand, overreached my destiny.
My father wasn't President of the U. S., but get this: He
was a two-term mayor of Plains, Kansas (pop. 674). Plains is the
site, you all know, of the widest Main Street in the world. It was in
Ripley's Believe It or Not. We had picture postcards of it. You can
look it up.
Anyway, you can imagine, can't you, what it was like being
the son of the mayor of Plains, Kansas. I was pretty sure that I had
a glorious political future ahead of me, that the ripe fruit of my
father's success would plop unearned into my own gaping mouth.
And that that's why, about 30 years ago, I overplayed my
hand, overreached my destiny. I ran for the board of the Lower South
Platte Natural Resources District. I figured that, with my bloodline,
there was no reason to start small. I'd go from there to being
Governor, and then who knows?
As I remember, the top five vote-getters would be elected,
so factoring in my legacy as the son of the mayor of Plains, Kansas, I
saw myself as a shoo-in. I didnít need no stinking platform. I
didn't need no stinking campaign. I would become a member of the
Lower South Platte NRD board through my God-given droit du
seigneurmy God-given rights of nobility.
I finished 12th out of 13 candidates.
In Greek tragedy, hubris is always followed by catastrophe.
So a warning from your humbled servant: Don't overplay your
hand, Mr. President. Don't overreach your destiny.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail