I was listening to arch-kook Alex Jones on the radio this weekend – largely by accident – when he spouted one of his classic lies and reminded me that it needs to be addressed here. He said “On the cover of PD61 it says right there that the president is a dictator.” Jones managed to get the number of the directive wrong, unless energy security policy from the Clinton administration is his main concern. Based on his website, what he meant to refer to is Presidential Policy Directive 51, of which he says:
“Oh, let’s not forget PDD51, National Security Presidential Directive 51. It allows Bush to fully realize his role as the decider-commander and chuck Congress and the resilient (read, continually besieged by government) American citizen by the way side.”
This conspiracy theory falls pretty much in the ‘Bush is Hitler’ category which usually signifies when extremists on the left or right have really jumped the shark and should just be ignored. When Jones or his acolytes bring this up in conversation it’s easy to be prepared to tear them to shreds.
First off go and actually read the document and pay particular attention to the history of the directive and to the conditions under which it actually applies. Rather than suspending the Constitution as Jones suggests, its stated objective is the preservation of “Enduring Constitutinal Government” which includes “the capability of all three branches of government to execute constitutional responsibilities.” That hardly sounds like replacing our government with a dictatorship, and the repeated references in the document to protecting all three branches of government certainly doesn’t sound like the intent to “chuck Congress” which Jones refers to.
Contrary to what Jones is suggesting, this executive order only comes into play in a situation where the country is under so severe a threat that the regular government cannot operate – Congress can’t convene because DC has been evacuated, for example. It also does not provide for a long-term replacement government or a permanent dictatorship or even direct presidential rule. It provides for temporary caretaker management of the nation until order can be reestablished and normal government restored. Again and again the document stresses that its purpose is to “protect the constitution” and the details on the restoration of constitutional government. The actual thrust of the document is to establish a procedure by which law and the constitution and our way of government will be protected and preserved in a time of crisis – very much the opposite of what Jones suggests.
It’s also very important to note when it goes into effect. It didn’t give Bush dictatorial powers when it was signed as conspiracy mongers commonly claim. It only applies in a “catastrophic emergency” which is defined as:
“any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
That hardly sounds like an every day situation, and it hardly sounds like conditions which are in effect right now. Note the adjectives “extraordinary” and “severely”. They do have specific legal meanings and they rule out the day to day application of the directive.
Although Jones and his followers will try to say that this directive is a Bush/Neocon plot, they are just demonstrating historical ignorance. It is in fact only a revision of a standing order which was last updated and reissued in 1998 during the Clinton administration and which has existed in some form going back to just after WW2, so it’s not exactly a Bush power grab. The first such directive was enacted in 1947 and the current version is actually much less ambiguously worded and much clearer on the limitations of its applicability. Every president since Truman has signed off on a version of this directive.
As with so many of these hysterical claims, when you go to the actual document referenced, it becomes clear that no rational person could reach the conclusions of the conspiracy crazies from reading the source material. It takes a remarkably twisted mind to read “Ensuring the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution” and “Defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and come to the conclusion that the document suspends the constitution and creates a dictatorship. As is so often the case, Jones is just throwing out a reference to a source, assuming that his listeners will either not read the document or that they are just as loony as he is and will see in it what he tells them to see.
To anyone rational, all that is being offered here is paranoia and hogwash.