Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Rule of Law

Which Bush critic said this?
That none of us is above the law is a bedrock principle of democracy. To erode that bedrock is to risk even further injustice. To erode that bedrock is to subscribe, to a "divine right of kings" theory of governance, in which those who govern are absolved from adhering to the basic moral standards to which the governed are accountable.

We must never tolerate one law for the Ruler, and another for the Ruled. If we do, we break faith with our ancestors from Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord to Flanders Field, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Panmunjon, Saigon and Desert Storm.

Let us be clear: The vote that you are asked to cast is, in the final analysis, a vote about the rule of law.

The rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization. For the alternative to the rule of law is the rule of raw power. We here today are the heirs of three thousand years of history in which humanity slowly, painfully and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies.

We are the heirs of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law: a moral code for a free people who, having been liberated from bondage, saw in law a means to avoid falling back into the habit of slaves.

We are the heirs of Roman law: the first legal system by which peoples of different cultures, languages, races, and religions came to live together in a form of political community.

We are the heirs of the Magna Carta, by which the freeman of England began to break the arbitrary and unchecked power of royal absolutism.

We are the heirs of a long tradition of parliamentary development, in which the rule of law gradually came to replace royal prerogative as the means for governing a society of free men and women.

We are the heirs of 1776, and of an epic moment in human affairs when the Founders of this Republic pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor - sacred honor - to the defense of the rule of law.

We are the heirs of a tragic civil war, which vindicated the rule of law over the appetites of some for owning others.

We are the heirs of the 20th century's great struggles against totalitarianism, in which the rule of law was defended at immense cost against the worst tyrannies in human history. The "rule of law" is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good. The rule of law is like a three legged stool: one leg is an honest Judge, the second leg is an ethical bar and the third is an enforceable oath. All three are indispensable in a truly democratic society.
Actually, it was not a Bush critic who said it but Repuplican Congressman Henry Hyde (R-IL) who was referring to Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, as Digby says:
All those fine words about the rule of law safeguarding our liberties, the arbitrary exercise of power and Bunker Hill, Lexington and Normandy went right out the window on 9/11. That was when Henry and the rest of his stalwart defenders of the rule of law promptly wet their pants and then let their president use the constitution to clean up the puddle.
Henry Hyde may have turned into the President's whore, but luckily we still have this excellent quote of his.


Dan said...

Great stuff, but slightly off the mark, I think.

Yeah, I'm sure Henry Hyde would be all over George W. Bush for his improprieties had his vision not been clouded by the specter of terrorism. Am I missing something, but is Digby presupposing that Hyde actually believed what he was saying when he made this comment?

My point is, Hyde has always been a shameless, partisan hack and a complete piece of garbage. He could always overlook lying when Republicans were doing it.

Mads said...

I agree with your assessment of Hyde. But I think the speech was good. Those words moved me, as a "reformed" conservative (and a European) I like references to the "long tradition of parliamentary development".

I guess I meant to compliment Hyde's speachwriter, whomever he/she is.

Dan said...

Oh no, I wasn't aiming at you, Mads, and it's only a minor quibble anyway. I meant that Digby was perhaps inadvertently suggesting that 9/11 changed Hyde the way it changed many other things. There's a lot of that sort of thing going around, it seems. Since 9/11 this, and since 9/11 that, and I'm sure you've noticed that Bush has attempted to justify every last decision he makes, every misjudgment or transgression, by suggesting that all rules changed on that day. The wiretapping scandal is only the latest egregious example.

Henry Hyde says what he says because he's a shamelessly partisan Republican. It's important to remember that he was that way before 9/11, when he truly gave a damn about the rule of law no more than he does now, no matter what he said.

But I agree with you. I love that we have this quote, and yours is a great post.