Viewing the Constitution from the Right

By David Swanson

Bruce Fein’s new book “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy,” is written by someone who admits he voted for Bush and Cheney twice, supported the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito with no apparent regrets, proposes Robert Bork as a model justice, admires Rehnquist and Scalia, supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton and wanted him convicted, served as associate deputy attorney general to Ronald Reagan and general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission under Reagan (who — you’ll recall — eliminated the Fairness Doctrine), worked as research director for Congressman Dick Cheney when they blocked investigation of Reagan’s Iran-Contra crimes and prevented his impeachment, has been a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, opposes Roe v. Wade and affirmative action and any minimum wage, supports discrimination against homosexuals, and — in an unfortunate bit of timing — openly declares on page 20 that he “frowns on government regulation … to manipulate or distort free market choices.”

Yet, if you set aside pages 19 through 21, I agree with pretty much all the main points in this book. That they come from someone on the right has had no impact on them that I can discern. That they come from Bruce Fein has given them a unique foundation in historical and legal facts, benefitting from Fein’s understanding of history, both distant and Nixonian. Fein did not support Nixon’s crimes any more than Bush’s and Cheney’s, but he does recognize the greater gravity of the latter.

Fein’s political perspective may have had some impact — I don’t know for sure — on his choice of which crimes to focus on. His book is particularly worth reading if you want the low down on illegal spying, illegal secrecy, and illegal rendition. Fein goes very light on the war and many other crimes and abuses. On page 2 he rather obscenely refers to the “hundreds [sic] of civilians who have been killed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Two serious studies have been done of the Iraqi death count resulting from the invasion and occupation, both placing the count well over a million. One is Just Foreign Policy’s updated figure based on an initial but now outdated report by Johns Hopkins / Lancet. The other is an August 2007 study by the British polling company Opinion Research Business, then estimating 1.2 million, now also out of date. See: I think you’d be hard pressed to find any neocons in Washington who would claim the total was under 10,000, except apparently for Fein.

I also object to Fein’s claim on page 41 that the American people have not “flooded Pelosi’s office with protesting Emails or phone calls,” over her refusal to impeach. Where did Fein get such an absurd idea? From Pelosi? And he believed her? Or did he just pull it out of thin air based on the Washington Post’s and the Washington Times’ failure to report on the fact that we’ve shut Pelosi’s office down with floods of Emails, faxes, and phone calls over a period of well over a year, that we’ve sat in her office, delivered petitions to her office, camped out endlessly in her front yard in San Francisco (which has made lots of media and generated her complaint that she can’t have us arrested the way she would if we were poor people unprotected by the First Amendment), disrupted her speaking events, marched from Boston to her DC office, saturated the internet and progressive radio with complaints against her, and run Cindy Sheehan against her as an impeachment candidate for Congress.

I also disagree somewhat with some of Fein’s points on pages 44-45. Fein thinks that Americans are slow to grow outraged over abuses of civil rights because most of those abused are non-Americans with foreign-sounding names. I think there is a lot of truth in that, and yet there are numerous American victims, including political prisoners like the former governor of Alabama. Americans have been spied on. American whistleblowers, including in the Justice Department — such as Jesslyn Radack — have had their careers destroyed as retribution for speaking out, and for speaking out against abuses of other Americans. Americans have been deceived by illegal propaganda. Americans (like Cindy Sheehan’s son) have been sent to their deaths for a pile of lies. Americans live on the globe the accelerated warming of which Fein does not touch on. In short, there are specific American victims, and we are all victims of outrageous criminal acts and criminal negligence. And when Fein proposes that candidates for president should promise not to “detain without trial any American citizen,” I think he is playing to the same xenophobia he diagnoses. We should not tolerate the detention without trial of anyone.

But these are minor points I’m picking out of a 204-page book that is absolutely devastating in its demand for the immediate impeachment of Bush and Cheney. And this is obviously a book that can be given to your right-wing uncle with the most likely chance of him not dismissing it quickly. Fein’s analysis of the peril in which we find ourselves is devastating — and depressing. Sadly, he offers no advice for what we can do about it, other than demanding impeachment. He organizes nothing, and he openly predicts failure, which is just not an effective way to encourage action. And yet it seems pure and honest, and Fein offers these dead-on accurate and ethical words of advice:

“It might be asked, if the overwhelming majority of Americans are vastly more thrilled by sporting events and creature comforts than they are by the moral challenges and burdens of self-government, then why struggle against this inexorable tide? The answer is two-fold. Anything else would be dishonorable. And you might leave footprints in the sands of time to inspire someone yet to be born to champion freedom in more propitious circumstances.”

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