Wednesday, May 2, 2007

From the Files of U.S. Intelligence

One of the starkest expressions of executive power is the presidential veto. With a stroke of the pen (constitutional scholars disagree as to whether a No. 2 mechanical pencil is sufficient), the president can override duly enacted congressional legislation. Typically, this can only be overridden by a 2/3 vote of Congress or a particularly well-timed sex scandal. Recently, the subject of vetoes has risen to the forefront after President Bush II dramatically vetoed a military funding bill that includes milestones and a timeline for mandatory troop redeployments, describing the law as "setting a benchmark for failure." This is easily contrasted with chairmarks, which result from allowing preadolescent family members to move living room furniture. With so much controversy swirling around the veto, we have re-opened the Files of U.S. Intelligence to take a critical, retrospective look at the role of vetoes throughout history.

President Jackson Vetoes the Second National Bank (1833)

President Jackson was also known as "Old Hickory," though friends rarely called him that, as it could be mistaken for a brand of whiskey that could be bought at the drugstore. In vetoing the charter of the Second National Bank, Jackson was said to have vehemently opposed the bank's propensity to concentrate wealth in the nation's elite financial class, its firm policy against free checking, and the exorbitant transaction fees it charged for third party ATM machines. The word "tariff" was also bandied about, though no one at the time was sure what it meant or how it related to the issue at hand. While Jackson's financial policy remains lauded by those who remember when the MRSP for a Ferrari was $3, Jackson remains more commonly known for his ruthless policies towards the Cherokee Indians, as well as Indians working in Santa Clara on H1-B visas.

Grover Cleveland Vetoes 304 Bills (1884-1888, 1892-1896)

Though he spent most of his two terms living in the shadow of a blue muppet, many people are unaware that Grover Cleveland vetoed more bills during his tenure than any president other than Franklin Roosevelt. It is a well-known fact that whenever Cleveland's son asked his father to borrow the family sedan, the president would squeal "Veto!" before dissolving into hysterical fits of giggles. President Cleveland was known for his outspoken disapproval of "pork barrel" projects, a term that he used to refer to public works appropriations as well as William Howard Taft. Cleveland's administration was also characterized by constant disputes between those favoring the "gold standard" and those who supported the "silver standard." Soon, a third group emerged clamoring about "greenbacks" before a truce was declared in 1895, when each group realized they had no idea what they were talking about.

The Reagan Vetoes (1981-1988)

Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency pledging to curb government "waste." He used his vetoes, 39 in total, against bills to fund foreign aid to Africa, raise funds for public broadcasting, establish the National Institute of Health, and levy economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Any budget surplus that the vetoes created, however, was promptly erased when Regan pledged $500 billion to developing phasers and photon torpedoes by 1994, citing concerns that the USSR would have an operational cloaking device by the time Michael Jackson released "Thriller." Reagan's bold policies were opposed, largely without success, by a broad coalition of civil rights groups, unions, environmentalists, people who had engaged in sexual intercourse at one point in their lives, and those who believed that serving fried raccoon meat in school hot lunches was unlikley to promote long-term health.

As even the casual reader can deduce, the veto has played a pivotal role in the development of American history. Modern observers can only speculate about the broad implications of the president's latest veto, but one thing can be assured: They will continue to be recorded in the annals of the Files of U.S. Intelligence.

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