National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Libby Commutation

Maybe Bush’s outrageous commutation of Scooter Libby’s will help some folks recognize that this president and his cronies have more than normal self-interest or operative pragmatic scheming in mind.

The Libby case, as with so many others, is not about Libby or any particular incident. It’s not about respect for the “rule of law,” either. If you say it’s more about “who gets to make the law,” you’d be closer to the truth.           

The oft-used term “neo-conservatives,” or “neo-cons,” is thrown around the identify the circles that helped lift this current administration to power, but the true spirit or meaning of the general term is not easily grasped. No, these are not just new conservatives, not just another Ronald Reagan or your daddy’s Moose lodge.

At the top, these people have a total overhaul of U.S. Constitutional government in mind. Bush and friends are the first administration that has achieved a level of power high enough to exhibit this. Their goal is the end of democracy as defined by the U.S. Constitution.

They came into office on the shoulders of the same forces, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and those under his sway on that bench who installed Bush as the president in December 2000.

Appropriately, it is a movement steeped in religious convictions, as religion is a domain that needs no respect for the secular U.S. Constitution.

In Scalia’s case, many, including myself, attending a dinner honoring a retiring George Mason University law professor in Arlington in January 2003, were shocked to hear him couch in Jesuit-steeped legaleze the core substance of his notion of law.

In so many words, he said the law is defined by who wins. If you win, you get to decide what is legal and what isn’t.

It’s a variant on “might makes right” and other tenants of “social Darwinism,” the ideology which, when unbridled in political practice, leads to all varieties of tyranny.

Since that night, I’ve been dismayed by the notion that such an ideology would be operative on the U.S. Supreme Court. That court is assigned with preserving the notion that U.S. law, and its defense of equal justice and democratic institutions, is rooted in the U.S. Constitution, not the most recent thug elected to a high place.

It has not been until Bush’s two most recent appointments to the Supreme Court  that Scalia’s viewpoint has appeared to obtain the majority there.

In President Bush’s case, he comes from of a particularly unsavory ultra right-wing Protestant religious influence that combines its influence on controlling his self-destructive personal habits with its claims that God’s law supercedes man’s laws and that the true believer must be obedient to the former.

The likes of Dick Cheney and others, of course, don’t require the religious trappings on this notion. For them, Scalia is sufficient: You win, you rule.

But humans, being how they are, prefer promises of eternal bliss and threats of the opposite for misbehaving, to motivate their actions.

Bush adopted his brand of the “real thing,” religiously, in Texas. It was channeled through the funding arms of right-wing, California billionaire Howard Ahmanson, Jr., bringing the so-called Christian Reconstructionist movement of theologian R. J. Rushdoony directly to Gov. Bush’s door.

Ahmanson is an Orange County arch-conservative who not only drew the late Rushdoony to his breast, but has funded countless efforts at transforming mainstream Protestant Christian institutions into something in his image. This has included the effort to induce a schism in the Episcopal Church U.S.A.

Rushdoony’s core belief is that God is calling America to replace Constitutional law with Biblical law. That is, all the tenants in Leviticus, Deuteronomy and the others, including the literal stoning of gays and whores, are to become the law of the land.

Bush is constantly told that God is working through him. On the road to full Biblical rule, he must act without respect for the Constitution. He must wiretap, he must allow Guantanamo, he must permit Abu Ghraib, he must defend Cheney’s refusal to disclose, he must sanction leaks exposing covert CIA operations, he must stack the court system, all this and more with disdain and disregard for the Constitution.

For him, it’s not only because he can, but because God is telling him to.