Neo-Conmen

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"The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and for people, equally in war and peace, and it covers with its shield of protection all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances. No doctrine involving more pernicious consequences was ever invented by the wit of men that any of its great provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government.”

— Ex Parte Milligan (1866)

The above statement was made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1866 in the context of its ruling that the Lincoln administration's suspension of Habeas Corpus was unconstitutional. As long as the civil courts were operating (which they were), the Court ruled, it is unconstitutional for either the president or the Congress to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus. What this statement says is that it is precisely in times of national emergencies, such as war, that civil liberties must be most jealously protected. If not, then governments will be encouraged to generate crises, or perceptions of crises, in order to grab more power for themselves by diminishing individual liberty.

This profound truth gives the lie to the notion that one can be an advocate and supporter of the American state's unconstitutional and aggressive wars on the one hand, and a "constitutionalist" on the other. War is the enemy of constitutional liberty. The current poster boy for this contradictory outlook is the radio talking head Marc Levin ("The Grate One," as Lew Rockwell calls him) who bloviates endlessly about how devoted he supposedly is to the Constitution while aggressively supporting the neocon agenda of endless war in the Middle East and elsewhere — and all of the accompanying assaults on civil liberties at home. So as not to appear to be sexist, I should also point out that Congresswoman Michele Bachman is the current poster girl for this position, claiming that of all the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination she is the most devoted to the Constitution, while rabidly supporting the never-ending expansion of the warfare state.

Neocons like Levin, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh who now fancy themselves as constitutionalists since there is a Democrat in the White House are hypocrites of the first order. All during the eight years of the Bush regime their standard response to anyone who would object to the PATRIOT Act and myriad other attacks on constitutional liberty was to proclaim that "9/11 changed everything." Translation: the hell with the constitution; we're engaged in a never-ending "war on terra," as George W. Bush called it. We need to destroy our constitutional liberties in order to protect our constitutional liberties, they told us. It is the hatred of those liberties by people in the Middle East that caused the terrorists to attack us on 9/11, they ludicrously proclaimed (and still do).

War is not just "the health of the state," as Randolph Bourne sagely stated in his famous essay of that title; it is the health of unlimited and unconstitutional government. Governmental powers always ratchet up during wartime at the expense of constitutional liberty (and prosperity) despite the fact that every federal politician, and every soldier, takes an oath to do the opposite — to defend the Constitution. This notorious "ratchet effect" is described in great detail in Robert Higgs's classic book, Crisis and Leviathan.

The Lincoln administration set the template for tactic of using war as an excuse to destroy constitutional liberties. Lincoln illegally suspended Habeas Corpus and imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political dissenters without due process; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers in the Northern states; deported a political opponent, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio; confiscated firearms in the border states; illegally created the state of West Virginia out of Northwestern Virginia; and much more. Indeed, Lincoln's invasion of the Southern states was the very definition of treason under Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution which reads: "Treason" against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort" (emphasis added). The founders were careful to always speak of "the United States" in the plural in all of the founding documents. That's why the constitution's definition of treason refers to "them" and "their." A central government that wages war against the free and independent states (the language of the Declaration of Independence) is guilty of treason. That of course is precisely what Lincoln did. (He always insisted that the Southern states never legally seceded, were never a legitimately separate country, and were always a part of the U.S.).

Ever since Lincoln's day, tyrant after tyrant has invoked the myth of "Father Abraham" to "justify" the destruction of civil liberties in wartime. Woodrow Wilson did it when he imprisoned dissenters to the First World War (including people imprisoned for reading the Bill of Rights in public); the Roosevelt administration did it when it sent third-generation Japanese-Americans to concentration camps; and of course today's neocons, who run the Republican Party, rarely ever make a speech about anything without claiming that "Father Abraham" would agree with their political agenda if he were alive today. For example, In a September 7, 2006 Wall Street Journal article Newt Gingrich advocated a military invasion and occupation of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea and titled the article "Lincoln and Bush." Even the former dictator of Pakistan quoted Abe Lincoln as "justification" for imposing martial law in his country several years ago.

The big money people of the Republican Party even funded a think tank — the Claremont Institute — to do almost nothing but perpetuate the myths and superstitions about Lincoln as a means of "justifying" whatever the Republican Party wants to do. The Claremont Institute has indoctrinated hundreds of "Lincoln fellows," who are mostly Republican congressional staffers, executive branch political appointees, and tabloid propagandists from such places as The Weekly Standard, with the Lincoln myths, which the Institute hopes will be inserted into political speeches. Their apparent purpose is to censor all criticism of the GOP's policy proposals. If you oppose them, why, you must be a Neo-Confederate slavery defender! Ken Masugi of the Claremont Institute even took a leave of absence to become a speech writer for the disgraced former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Masugi's insertion of Lincolnite political boilerplate into Gonzalez's speeches failed to save him as he was forced to resign.

Like all the other neocons at the Claremont Institute, Masugi claims to be a self-appointed guardian of The Official Truth about the Constitution, even though he defends the unjust and tyranical imprisonment of his own people — Japanese Americans — by FDR during World War II. As Lincoln might have said, if that was not unconstitutional, then nothing is unconstitutional.

The phony neocon "constitutionalists" in the Bush administration, with the support of the Claremont Institute, AEI, Heritage foundation, and all the neocon talking heads on radio and television, waged war on the U.S. Constitution. The Congress gave President Bush the power to declare martial law; Bush claimed to have unconstitutional powers of "the unitary executive," as though there was only one branch of government; the so-called PATRIOT Act allows the government to declare that almost anyone who protests government actions as an "enemy combatant" who has no constitutional rights; allows warrantless wiretapping; proclaimed that the Bush administration was exempt from the Geneva Convention; permits the government to order individuals and financial institutions to turn over to it private financial information, travel itineraries, email and phone records, and more; and imposes prison sentences for anyone who reveals that such snooping has taken place; and abolishes the traditional lawyer-client privilege for anyone accused of being an "enemy combatant."

The neocons have called for a Nazi-style national ID card, and supported journalist Michele Malkin's book, In Defense of Internment, in which she advocated the rounding up and imprisonment of Muslim-Americans, similar to FDR's Japanese-American concentration camps. (Like a good neocon, she cites Lincoln as her "authority").

War is the enemy of constitutional liberty and also of prosperity. It is impossible to support the American regime's unconstitutional and aggressive wars and be devoted to the Constitution at the same time.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.

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