Easily pleased

Conservatives think that a President can redeem oathbreaking with inconsistency. Whatever.

Republicans and conservatarians who want to keep admiring (or at least not utterly despising) George W. Bush have to keep defining competency down. That’s a given.

Still, it’s interesting to watch how low a limbo bar some of them are prepared to crawl under to establish a hurdle their hero can step over. Reginald Brown (as quoted by Volokh Conspirator Orin Kerr) has, I think, reached a new low:

George Will pointed out, in what is rapidly becoming a famous column, that George W. Bush, during the 2000 campaign, denounced the principle behind McCain-Feingold as unconstitutional, and then turned around and signed McCain-Feingold into law. From that Will infers that Bush should not be taken seriously as a guardian of the Constitution.

Brown admits the premise, but denies the conclusion. Brown concedes that Bush deliberately violated the Constitution he had sworn to uphold with his hand on the Bible, thus with a single action transgressing not only his duty under Article II but also the Third Commandment. But, Brown explains, “the politics of the entire situation were plain, and nderstandable, to all involved,” and Bush redeemed himself by arranging for the Republican Party to challenge the law in court, thus in effect accusing himself of having broken his solemn oath.

So, according to Brown, a President (or perhaps only a President who goes to the right sort of church, appoints right-wing judges, supports business interests, and cuts taxes for the rich) acts properly when:

1) under political pressure, he violates his oath of office by signing legislation he believes to be, and has said to be, unconstitutional, as long as he then

2) adds inconsistency to oathbreaking by having his political operatives go into court and challenge the constitutionality of the resulting law (and hypocrisy to inconsistency by never acknowledging the act of the GOP as his own).

Mr. Brown is to be congratulated on his astounding feat of political and intellectual contortionism.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com