General William Barr has been on a bit of a bender recently. He’s suggested that
communities that are critical of law enforcement will lose police
protection, disagreed with
the Inspector General’s report about the FBI and the Russia investigation,
and warmed the
hearts of the faithful at Notre Dame in decrying a “war on
Mr. Barr rarely fails to make news, his most consequential opinions came in a
speech he gave to the Federalist Society on November 15, 2019, in which he went
on, at some length, as to why he supports the broadest possible interpretation
of Presidential powers.
you have read reports about Mr. Barr’s remarks, you probably already know they
have been criticized for their ferocious partisanship. There is unquestionably
a considerable amount of energy devoted to critiquing those who get in
President Trump’s way (Congress, the federal courts, Progressives, and private
citizens who exercise their right of free speech). But Mr. Barr is not only a
man of intensity, he is also one of words (over 6000 here), and, when moved to
talk about substance, he has a lot to say. You can find the text on the
Department of Justice website.
pointless to argue with Barr about his personal political views, regardless of
the tone in which they are delivered. And it’s shouting into gale-force winds
to note that his zeal for an uber-powerful Presidency seems to wax and wane
depending on the party identification of the person occupying the Oval Office.
What is interesting, and important, is reviewing the customized version of
history that leads him to take his present view of both Presidential power and
the nature of the relationships among the three branches of government.
first dive into the past is a fascinating one:
grammar school civics class version of our Revolution is that it was a
rebellion against monarchial tyranny, and that, in framing our Constitution,
one of the main preoccupations of the Founders was to keep the Executive weak.
This is misguided. By the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1689, monarchical
power was effectively neutered and had begun its steady decline. Parliamentary
power was well on its way to supremacy and was effectively in the driver’s
seat. By the time of the American Revolution, the patriots well understood that
their prime antagonist was an overweening Parliament. Indeed, British thinkers
came to conceive of Parliament, rather than the people, as the seat of
went to grammar school, and I think this is a very clever argument, albeit
completely misleading. He’s conflated two separate thoughts—a debatable one
that the colonists were not rejecting a strong executive, with an unsupported
one that “patriots well understood that their prime antagonist was an
overweening Parliament.” And he’s forgotten that
Parliament was not some malevolent jellyfish made up of a thousand stinging MPs
and Lords. They, too, had Executive leadership—a Cabinet and a Prime Minister
(Lord North, during most of the Revolutionary War whom, ironically, 19th
Century historians judged too subservient to the King).
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