-- -- Last week's annual
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
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
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
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 Michael
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
Dr. Roberts <firstname.lastname@example.org> is John
M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy
and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is
a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal,
former contributing editor for National Review, and a
former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is
the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.