Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Rule of Law

I have given four areas where I think that the Democrats are going to leave us worse off if they win the election (energy, international trade, health care). Now I am listing four areas where the Republicans will leave us worse off.

One of the key areas is in the area of the Rule of Law.

Torture, rendition, warrantless searches, arbitrary arrest, indefinite confinement without a trial, secret trials, secret evidence, the use of signing statements and executive orders to bypass the legislature and the courts, secret laws, there is not a single practice popular among tyrants that the Bush Administration, with the support of Republicans in the legislature and on the courts, has not put into practice or at least argued for the right to put into practice.

Overall, the Republican rule of governing has been, "Whatever Caesar wants, Caesar gets."

One of the principles of government that has been popular in America until recently is the idea that we cannot trust people to govern other people. People are corruptible, and will inevitably put their own interests above those of their subjects. Instead, we have sought to trust our freedom and well-being to institutions. Specifically, the goal was to set up a "rule of law" that even legislators and Presidents had to obey, and a system of checks and balances to enforce it. Collectively, this set of institutions is captured by the term, the Rule of Law.

The Republican Party over the past eight years have shown a great distaste for the Rule of Law. They have spent their time in power fighting to take down those institutions and to put their power, instead, into the hands of people. They have rejected the idea that people cannot be trusted to protect our interests and preserve our liberty. Instead, they argue, the rule of law must be torn down and replaced with the rule of man so that Caesar can then use this power to protect us in ways that the Rule of Law cannot.

If America were to succumb to tyranny, it is highly unlikely that it will be forced on us as an invasion from an outside force. Tyranny will rise in America the way that it has risen in other republics in history. The tyrant will rise from within the ranks, will take the reigns of power, and will use some element of internal or external strife to say, "Give all power to me, so that I can defend you from these forces of evil." Once he has that power, he will not relinquish it. He will continue to point the finger at supposed enemies (real or imagined( in order to preserve the sense of daner and anxiety, and in order to argue that he must continue to hold all of this power for the sake of the people.

So this is how liberty dies, to the sound of thunderous applause

This line comes from the third Star Wars movie. It comes from Senator Padme at the point where Palpatine has engineered such a threat to the Republic that the Senate grants him dictatorial powers, and enthusiastically applauds the decision. We have, in the Republican Party, a sufficiently large group of people giving thunderous applause to all of the elements of tyranny that the Bush Administration has advanced. In doing so, they have proven themselves to be the type of people in whose hands our personal liberties are least safe. They will eagerly hand those liberties over to the first tyrant who comes along who states, "You are in danger. I will protect you," and who asks for the sacrifice of those liberties as payment.

In spite of this concern, the Democrats have not proven themselves to be enthusiastic defenders of the Rule of Law either. They have had almost two years, since winning the Legislature from the Republicans in the elections of 2006, to stand up for the Rule of Law against the Tools of Tyranny that the Bush Administration has claimed the right to use. They have done little to do so.

Nor have they made much of a campaign issue out of these concerns.

Of course, it is easy to understand why they have selected this course. It is a part of the process – one of the core troths that can be found in the quote, "This is how liberty dies. To thunderous applause." Democrats want thunderous applause, too. They are not in these campaigns to lose. They are in these campaigns to win. Winning is far less likely when one's opponent is the one generating the thunderous applause – when defense for the Rule of Law earns only apathetic silence.

I have to confess, I am not overly optimistic when we get thunderous applause for the instruments of tyranny coming from Republicans, and apathetic indifference for the Rule of Law coming from Democrats. Yet, it is still the case that apathetic indifference to the Rule of Law is better than active hostility towards it. So, when it comes to protecting the Rule of Law, the Republicans are still the party to like the least – until they adopt a new set of values.

It is, in fact, both surprising and unsettling that the Republicans have been at all successful in branding themselves as America’s party – the 'patriotic' party – the party that best represents America. It is surprising, given the fact that the Republicans have done so much harm to the values that once defined America – particularly the value of the rule of law. It is unsettling because, to the degree that the Republicans are successful in this campaign, to that degree being an American will be associated with being an advocate and defender of torture, rendition, warrantless searches and seizures, warrantless arrest, indefinite imprisonment without a trial, secret trials, and secret evidence.

The Republicans, in effect, now have our children pledging allegiance to torture, arbitrary arrest, and unrestrained executive power with the power to nullify both the legislature and the courts. This is because the Republicans would have us believe being a true and loyal American means supporting these practices.

Is this really what it means to be an American?

To many in the Republican Party, the answer seems to be 'yes'.


anton said...


Again, a great post! And, given that your contribution is in respect to the coming US election, I can appreciate that your concerns are what takes place within your borders.

I would add that when you get outside of the US American borders, the Rule of Law is conspicuous by its absence when failure to observe those Rules of Law benefits US America.

It is particularly disturbing when the World Court rules against US America and US America thumbs its nose! It also now ranks with cold-war Russia in disregarding rulings of the United Nations.

In his cartoon strip Lil Abner the late Al Capp had a character which was originally intended to satirically represent General Motors. His oft repeated phrase was "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for America!"

If Al Capp was still around I think he would replace it with "What's good for General Bushmoose is good for the World!" We hope it doesn't become "What's good for King McKain is good for the world!"

Anonymous said...

I second Anton's opinion. A truly excellent post. Thanks AE.