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 U.S.
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 Milbank, 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 über 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 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 Feb. 13, the American Bar Association passed a resolution belatedly asking
President Bush to stop violating the law. "We cannot allow the U.S. Constitution
and our rights to become a victim of terrorism," said bar association president
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.