Attorney General William Barr gave a speech to the Federalist Society last Friday which contained a direct attack on the Resistance. That and other parts of the speech did not go over well with many on the left. From Barr’s prepared remarks:
Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called “The Resistance,” and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his Administration. Now, “resistance” is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power. It obviously connotes that the government is not legitimate. This is a very dangerous – indeed incendiary – notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic. What it means is that, instead of viewing themselves as the “loyal opposition,” as opposing parties have done in the past, they essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government…
One of the ironies of today is that those who oppose this President constantly accuse this Administration of “shredding” constitutional norms and waging a war on the rule of law. When I ask my friends on the other side, what exactly are you referring to? I get vacuous stares, followed by sputtering about the Travel Ban or some such thing. While the President has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook, he was upfront about that beforehand, and the people voted for him. What I am talking about today are fundamental constitutional precepts. The fact is that this Administration’s policy initiatives and proposed rules, including the Travel Ban, have transgressed neither constitutional, nor traditional, norms, and have been amply supported by the law and patiently litigated through the Court system to vindication.
Indeed, measures undertaken by this Administration seem a bit tame when compared to some of the unprecedented steps taken by the Obama Administration’s aggressive exercises of Executive power – such as, under its DACA program, refusing to enforce broad swathes of immigration law.
The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of “Resistance” against this Administration, it is the Left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law.
From there, Barr argued that the left has an advantage over the right because it approaches politics as a kind of substitute religion:
In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.
Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise. We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing. This means that we naturally test the propriety and wisdom of action under a “rule of law” standard. The essence of this standard is to ask what the overall impact on society over the long run if the action we are taking, or principle we are applying, in a given circumstance was universalized – that is, would it be good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances?
For these reasons, conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means. And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy far, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.
That’s a pretty extraordinary broadside coming from the Attorney General. Not surprisingly, Barr’s speech generated plenty of angry reactions on the left. Dumpster fire expert Richard Painter called it a “lunatic authoritarian speech” and called for Barr’s impeachment:
Attorney General Barr defends Trump, assails 'Resistance”.https://t.co/lFXRaQIzkx
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) November 16, 2019
Members of the professional left media were also upset:
As the top law enforcement official in the land, Barr should not engage in ideological warfare. That shreds norms and undermines his credibility. https://t.co/GSMbJy3dU9
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) November 16, 2019
I read Bill Barr’s speech to the FedSoc just now. I think it is best delivered while wearing a uniform and mirrored shades, and while standing on a balcony.
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) November 16, 2019
There’s a lot more from various people on the left here. I have the impression Barr became persona non grata the moment he messed up the Democrats’ plans for a grand release of the Mueller report. Since then the left seems to be looking for an excuse to drag him and he certainly made that easier with this speech. The full speech is below, already queued up to the part where he talks about the Resistance. There’s a lot more to it than his criticisms of the left but those are the bits that created the most backlash.