From Conservatives to Brownshirts

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

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: paulcraigroberts@yahoo.com


 

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 How America Was Lost.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 30, 2015
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper
Richard Ward
Sandra Bland, Rebel
Jeffrey St. Clair
How One Safari Nut, the CIA and Neoliberal Environmentalists Plotted to Destroy Mozambique
Martha Rosenberg
Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office
Binoy Kampmark
Dead Again: the Latest Demise of Mullah Omar
Kathy Kelly – Buddy Bell
No Warlords Need Apply: a Call for Credible Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
Darker Horizons Ahead: Rethinking the War on ‘IS’
Stephen Lendman
The Show Trial of Saif Qaddafi: a Manufactured Death Sentence
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Karl Grossman
The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press
Cesar Chelala
Cultural Treasures Are Also Victims of War
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz