What Fred Thompson means by the "rule of law"

To generate right-wing enthusiasm for his candidacy, Thompson eagerly demonstrates his belief that "rule of law" is a malleable political weapon.


Glenn Greenwald
May 14, 2007 10:28PM (UTC)

Fred Thompson is desperate to be depicted as the savior of the right-wing movement and for that leaderless faction to embrace him as the Heir to George W. Bush. The number one qualification for that position is blind, cult-like loyalty to the right-wing movement, which in turn requires a willingness to blindly defend anyone loyal to the movement because, by definition, such a person is Good at their core and thus can do no real wrong.

Hence, Thompson is able to make the following two fundamentally contradictory claims in the very same speech without him or anyone in his audience realizing that there is anything inconsistent about it. First comes the inspiring homage to the Overarching Importance of The Rule of Law (emphasis in original):

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I want to talk a little about what should be the origin of all those talking points. This would be the principles on which they are based -- first principles.

The principles you have been defending since 1981. For Americans, these are found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They include a recognition of God and the fact there are certain rights that come from Him and not the government. . . .

The result is a system of checks and balances and a separation of powers that flow from our guiding documents and from the rule of law. First, an observation. Our nation is based upon the proposition that our statutes, common law and the Constitution will not only be applied fairly between litigants, but will also be observed by the government.

People will be able to rely upon the rules, usually long established, and their consistent application. This engenders respect for the law. It is a sad irony that a nation that is so dedicated to the rule of law is doing so much to undermine the respect for it.

After his inspiring tribute to The Rule of Law, Thompson next demands that convicted felon Lewis Libby be pardoned forthwith:

The other man is in a less lofty position. After years of sacrifice and service to his country, he sits at home with his wife and two children awaiting a prison sentence. His name is Scooter Libby.

I didn't know Scooter Libby, but I did know something about this intersection of law, politics, special counsels and intelligence. And it was obvious to me that what was happening was not right. So I called him to see what I could do to help, and along the way we became friends. You know the rest of the story: a D.C. jury convicted him. . . . I have called for a pardon for Scooter Libby.

After all, the only thing Libby did was commit perjury, obstruct justice and make false statements to the FBI and the Grand Jury. Everyone who reveres the Rule of Law and who laments its erosion knows that crimes like that are no big deal and that people who break those little laws should not be punished, but instead should be pardoned by their political comrades.

This marks an impressive evolution -- one could, if one were inclined to be negative, call it a complete reversal -- in Thompson's views on such lofty matters. Back in 1998, he foolishly thought that Obstruction of Justice was a Serious Crime, so serious in fact that a twice-elected President should be removed from office because of (never proven) allegations that he committed that crime. Back then, Thompson solemnly insisted that the lack of an underlying crime or even the lack of anything meaningful to be covered-up was irrelevant. That is because Our Respect for The Rule of Law demanded real punishment for such behavior:

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President Clinton has committed a pattern of acts of obstruction of justice. The record demonstrates that the President, when his misconduct became relevant to a civil court proceeding in which he was a defendant, used all the methods at his disposal, including his status as President, to obstruct these proceedings and to keep the truth from emerging. . . .

For at least nine months and in some respects up until today, the President has done everything within his power to bring about a miscarriage of justice in both a civil court proceeding and a criminal court proceeding. He took these actions for the sole purpose of protecting himself personally, politically and legally. For those who emphasize the private nature of his original misconduct, I would ask if he should be protected because he obstructed justice for such a low purpose? . . . .

So we castigate the President in the most bitter terms; decry his disgraceful conduct and his damage to the institutions we hold most dear; disgrace him with the most condemnatory language at our command and yet refuse to even consider his removal from office? By such action we treat the loss of public office as the worst fate imaginable, reserved for only the most treasonous of villains. Has public office become so precious in the United States that we treat it as a divine right? Actually, by such treatment we cheapen it.

At a time when all of our institutions are under assault, when the Presidency has been diminished and the Congress is viewed with scepticism, our Judiciary and our court system have remarkably maintained the public's confidence. Now the President's actions are known to every school child in America. And in the midst of these partisan battles, many people still think this matter is just `lying about sex.' But little by little, there will be a growing appreciation that it is about much more than that. And in years to come, in every court house in every town in America, juries, judges, and litigants will have the President's actions as a bench mark against which to measure any attempted subversion of the judicial process.

The notion that anyone, no matter how powerless, can get equal justice will be seen by some as a farce. And our rule of law--the principle that many other countries still dream about--the principle that sets us apart, will have been severely damaged. If this does not constitute damage to our government and our society, I cannot imagine what does. And for that he should be convicted.

That's the person who yesterday demanded that convicted felon Lewis Libby be pardoned. He's still parading around as the pious Protector of the Rule of Law, though he now does so as he protests the punishment of high government officials who are actually convicted -- rather than merely accused -- of obstructing justice.

One could ask -- with all of the major issues facing this country -- why it is that a would-be presidential candidate giving a major speech would devote a substantial portion of that speech to demanding the exoneration of Lewis Libby. Are there no more important matters claiming the attention of a presidential candidate than whether a convicted felon is freed?

Apparently, for those with pretentions to be the heroic right-wing candidate, there aren't any more important issues. That is because there is no more important attribute for the would-be replacement for George Bush as right-wing Leader than showing blind loyalty to the movement. Thompson must show that he believes in the overarching Rightness of the movement and the paramountcy of its mission with such fervor that he is willing, even eager, to throw aside all of his touted "principles" in order to defend those who are loyal to that movement.

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Demanding the pardon of a convicted felon is the perfect means for demonstrating that attribute, because that convicted felon was a loyal and trusted aide to Dick Cheney and a committed neoconservative warrior, and thus, by definition, is someone who should not be held accountable, no matter how many crimes he commits. That such a view is embraced by someone in the same speech where he showcases his grave concern over the erosion of the Rule of Law may be audacious, even shameless, but it is hardly surprising. This is, after all, the same movement that itself still pays homage to The Rule of Law (and limited federal power) while defending the Leader as he lays claims to the power to break the law.

Loyalty to this movement's power is their only real principle. All others are but tools used to justify that loyalty. What else could explain how one of its leaders can say with one breath: "It is a sad irony that a nation that is so dedicated to the rule of law is doing so much to undermine the respect for it," and then in the next breath: "I have called for a pardon for Scooter Libby."

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Glenn Greenwald

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