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March 29, 2006

Bush Is No Conservative


by Paul Craig Roberts

President Bush passes himself off as a conservative Republican and a born-again Christian. These are disguises behind which Bush hides. Would a Christian invade another country on false pretenses, kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and show no remorse or inclination to cease the aggression?

Longtime Republican policy wonk Bruce Bartlett recently published a book, Impostor, in which he proves that President Bush is no economic conservative, having broken all records in spending taxpayers' money and running up public debt.

Were Bush merely another big spender, his presidency wouldn't differ from other pork-barrel administrations, but Bush's radicalism goes far beyond spending. Bush has taken an irreverent approach to the U.S. Constitution.

Bush bears no resemblance to a political conservative. A political conservative does not confuse government with country. Patriotism means loyalty to country. Bush, however, demands allegiance to his government: "You are with us or against us!" Critics of the Bush administration are branded "unpatriotic" and even "treasonous."

Loyalty to country means allegiance to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the separation of powers. It does not mean blind support for a president, an administration, or a political party.

The separation of powers and civil liberties that were bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers are the protectors of our liberty. Bush, who swore on the Bible that he would defend and uphold the Constitution, has made it clear that he will not let the Constitution get in the way of expanding the powers of his office.

Bush has overridden a number of protections in the Bill of Rights. The right to assemble and to demonstrate has been infringed. The Secret Service now routinely removes protesters from the scene of Bush political events. Many unthinking Americans go along with this authoritarianism because they don't agree with the protesters, but once the right is lost, everyone loses it.

Bush has ignored habeas corpus, and he claims the unconstitutional power to arrest and detain people indefinitely without a warrant and without presenting charges to a judge. This is the most dangerous abuse of all, because whoever is in office can use this power against political opponents. Many unthinking Americans are not concerned, because they think this power will be used only against terrorists. However, as the Bush administration has admitted, many of its detainees are not terrorists. Most are innocent people kidnapped by tribal leaders and sold to the U.S. for the bounties paid for "terrorists."

Bush has refused to obey statutory law, specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Bush claims that as commander in chief he has the right to ignore the law and to spy on Americans without a warrant. Many unthinking Americans are unconcerned, saying that as they are doing nothing wrong they have nothing to fear. This attitude misses the point in a large way. If a president can establish himself above one law, he can establish himself above all laws. There is no line drawn through the law that divides the laws between the ones the president must obey and the ones he need not obey.

FISA does not interfere with government spying for national security purposes. Secrecy is protected, because the court of federal judges that issues the warrants is secret. Moreover, the law allows the government to spy first and then come to the court for a warrant. The purpose of the warrant is to be sure that the government is spying for legitimate purposes and not abusing the power to spy on political opponents for nefarious purposes.

When presidents sign a bill passed by Congress that they think might be interpreted in ways that could impinge on the powers of their office, they add a "signing statement" to protect traditional presidential powers. Under Bush, this practice has exploded. Bush has used signing statements considerably in excess of all previous presidents combined. Moreover, Bush uses the statements not to protect presidential powers, but to nullify acts of Congress, such as Republican Sen. John McCain's law against torture. Bush is using signing statements to turn the presidency into a dictatorship in which the executive is not accountable to laws passed by Congress. The next step is simply to announce that the executive is not accountable to elections either.

Bush's government is the first in our history in which there are no dissenting voices and no debate. Uniformity of opinion is more characteristic of a dictatorial government than a conservative one. Bush's government is all of one mind, because all important positions are held by neoconservatives.

Neoconservative is a deceptive term. It means "new conservatives," but there is nothing conservative about neocons. Neoconservatives believe in imposing their agenda on other countries the antithesis of American conservatism.

In short, real conservatives believe in conserving the Constitution, government accountability, and civil liberties, and avoiding foreign entanglements. Judging by its behavior and its statements, the Bush administration stands completely outside the conservative tradition.


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    Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and 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 author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.

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