Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

From Conservatives to Brownshirts



Last week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference signaled the transformation of American conservatism into brownshirtism. A former Justice Department official named Viet Dinh got a standing ovation when he told the CPAC audience that the rule of law mustn’t get in the way of President Bush protecting Americans from Osama bin Laden.

Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, who led the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton, reminded the CPAC audience that our first loyalty is to the US Constitution, not to a leader. The question, Barr said, is not one of disloyalty to Bush, but whether America “will remain a nation subject to, and governed by, the rule of law or the whim of men.”

The CPAC audience answered that they preferred to be governed by Bush. According to Dana Milbanks, a member of the CPAC audience named Richard Sorcinelli loudly booed Barr, declaring: “I can’t believe I’m in a conservative hall listening to him say Bush is off course trying to defend the United States.” A woman in the audience told Barr that the Constitution placed Bush above the law and above non-elected federal judges.

These statements gallop beyond the merely partisan. They express the sentiments of brownshirtism. Our leader uber alles.

Only a few years ago this same group saw Barr as a conservative hero for obtaining Clinton’s impeachment in the House. Obviously, CPAC’s praise for Barr did not derive from Barr’s stand on conservative principle that a president must be held accountable if he violates the law. In Clinton’s case Barr’s principles did not conflict with the blind emotions of the politically partisan conservatives demanding Clinton’s impeachment.

In opposing Bush’s illegal behavior, Barr is simply being consistent. But this time Barr’s principles are at odds with the emotions of the politically partisan CPAC audience. Rushing to the defense of Bush, the CPAC audience endorsed Viet Dinh’s Fuhrer Principle over the rule of law.

Why do the media and the public allow partisan political hacks, like Viet Dinh, to define Bush’s illegal actions as a national security issue? The purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is to protect national security. FISA creates a secret court to which the president can apply for a warrant even after he has initiated spying. Complying with the law in no way handicaps spying for national security purposes. The only spying handicapped by the warrant requirement is spying for illegitimate purposes, such as spying on political opponents.

There are only two reasons for Bush to refuse to obey the law. One is that he is guilty of illegitimate spying for which no warrant would be issued by the FISA court. The other is that he is using “national security” to create unconstitutional powers for the executive.

Civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate writing in the Boston Phoenix (Feb. 10-16) says that Bush’s grab for “sweeping, unchecked power in direct violation of a statute would open a Pandora’s box of imperial possibilities.” In short, it makes the president a dictator.

For years the Republican Federalist Society has been agitating for concentrating more power in the executive. The members will say that they do not favor a dictator, just a check on the “imperial Congress” and “imperial judiciary.” But they have not spelled out how the president can be higher than law and still be accountable, or, if he is only to be higher than some laws, but not other laws, and only in some circumstances, but not all circumstances, who draws the line through the law and defines the circumstances.

On February 13 the American Bar Association passed a resolution belatedly asking President Bush to stop violating the law. “We cannot allow the US Constitution and our rights to become a victim of terrorism,” said bar association president Michael Grecco.

The siren call of “national security” is all the cover Bush needs to have the FISA law repealed, thus legally gaining the power to spy however he chooses, the protection of political opponents be damned. However, Bush and his Federalist Society Justice Department are not interested in having the law repealed. Their purpose has nothing to do with national security. The point on which the regime is insisting is that there are circumstances (undefined) in which the president does not have to obey laws. What those circumstances and laws are is for the regime to decide.

The Bush regime is asserting the Fuhrer Principle, and Americans are buying it, even as Bush declares that America is at war in order to bring democracy to the Middle East.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at:


Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation wasted $32.2 million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians