NEWSFLASH! Conservatives Defend Constitution! (Updated)

The wide-spread meme developed by the RWNM as cover for side-stepping its responsibility for Bush – that the reason Republicans got whaled in November was because “they weren’t conservative enough” – has spawned a somewhat surprising off-shoot: a group of Reaganite conservatives who are attacking Republicans for their disinterest in the Constitution.

A new political group recently asked Mitt Romney to promise not to wiretap Americans without a judge’s approval or to imprison US citizens without a trial as “enemy combatants.” When Romney declined to sign their pledge, the group denounced him as “unfit to serve as president.”

Such rhetoric might be expected from liberal activists. But these critics, who call their organization American Freedom Agenda, are hardly leftists. They represent what they insist is a growing group of disaffected conservatives who are demanding that the Republican Party return to its traditional mistrust of concentrated government power.

“Mitt Romney’s ignorance of the Constitution’s checks and balances and protections against government abuses would have alarmed the Founding Fathers and their conservative philosophy,” said Bruce Fein, one of the group’s co founders and a Reagan administration attorney, in a press release last month attacking Romney for not signing the pledge.

Better late than never, I suppose, but one has to wonder about the absence of a similar blast at Bush. The Emperor and his Grand Vizier are the ones who have put what the AFA is upset about in place. It’s all well and good to demand of the candidates who would take his place that they renounce “ignorance of the Constitution’s checks and balances”, but how seriously can we take them if they don’t denounce the guy who’s purposely and blatantly violating the principles they say are so important? Without that one would be tempted to assume that this is, what? An election ploy? A cynical strategy to put the self-destructive GOP back in the hunt by appealing to those infamous swing voters?

“Conservatives have to go back to the basics,” said co founder Richard Viguerie , a veteran direct-mail strategist and author of “Conservatives Betrayed: How the Republican Party Hijacked the Conservative Cause.” “We have to go back and re launch the conservative movement. And for traditional conservatives, it’s part of our nature to believe in the separation of powers.”

The other two co founders are Bob Barr , a former Republican congressman from Georgia, and David Keene , chairman of the American Conservative Union .

All four argue that Bush is not a true conservative, and they decided to join forces earlier this year to make the expansion of executive power a topic of debate in the 2008 presidential election. They have applied for tax-exempt status, created a website, and drawn up a 10-point pledge that they intend to ask every candidate to sign.

These are not exactly moderates we’re talking about. They’re only slightly less extreme than the movement neoconservatives with which Bush surrounds himself. Viguerie and Barr were both vocal defenders of Reagan’s Iran/Contra operation, and Barr wasn’t exactly the Voice of Reason when he was in Congress. He played the part of hack and did what he was told.

So is this real or a PR play for sympathy and a plea to be allowed back into the reality-based community in time for the ’08 election?

At this point, I’m leaning toward the latter, but I’m willing to be convinced.

Update 6/17/07: In the “I Shoulda Knowed” Dept, Sideshow‘s Avedon Carol explains what’s actually behind this apparent anomaly.

[T]hey’re especially worried about putting the power of a runaway executive into Hillary Clinton’s hands.

Now it makes sense.

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