Saving the Rule of Law
Executive lawlessness endangers our republic.



Andrew C. McCarthy prosecuted the Blind Sheik after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and is a longtime contributor to National Review Online and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. An expert in national security and terrorism, McCarthy is author of the new book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment. In an interview with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, he explains his case.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: “American constitutional republicanism has been strong enough to survive over two centuries of self-governance, civil war, world war, terrorism, social upheaval, and periodic economic calamity. But can it survive a Ruler of Law and his trusty pitchforks?” Is it really that bad?

Andrew C. McCarthy: Well, for constitutional republicanism, sure. I am not saying that we are on the cusp of rampant violence and social disorder. I am saying that we are witnessing the death of a republic under the rule of law. When I call the president the ruler of law, I mean that he selectively rather than faithfully executes it. His “pitchforks” — that’s his word, not mine — is the hard left base that he agitates to “direct action,” as he did in his community-organizer days, in order to extort his current targets — whether they are businesses, states, or political opponents — into concessions. A constitutional republic is a nation of laws; we’re becoming subjects of presidential whim.


Lopez: Still, just in case the New York Times and Talking Points Memo have read this far: You are not actually campaigning to impeach President Obama?

McCarthy: No, I am campaigning to make executive lawlessness a major issue in our politics. As I say in Faithless Execution, the best thing for the country would be for the president to reverse course, honor his oath, faithfully execute the laws, and finish his term that way. But if he will not — and things seem to be getting worse rather than better — then there either has to be meaningful push back or we must resign ourselves to being a very different kind of country. I want to create a political environment where the president feels real pressure that incentivizes him to follow the law. Impeachment is the ultimate answer to executive lawlessness, and it has to be a real rather than an illusory remedy if you’re going to rein in rogue behavior. But the real goal is to give the president’s opposition — which has been largely supine for five-and-a-half years — the backbone to use its other major tool, the power of the purse. Impeachment is the last resort … but it has to be a real resort.


Lopez: You do make the legal case, though. How is this useful when you yourself explain that there is not political will for this?

McCarthy: The political case has to be built, and political will has to be cultivated. Convincing people that there are compelling legal grounds for the conclusion that a president has committed impeachable offenses is vital to developing the public will to do something about it.

Lopez: What does it say about the American people that there is not a political will for impeachment despite some of the unprecedented things that are happening? It’s a little bit insane that the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of religious sisters who serve the elderly poor, have to sue the Department of Health and Human Services because of Obamacare’s abortion-drug/contraception mandate, isn’t it? And yet the president was reelected?


McCarthy: I concede in the book that this is the part of the equation on which the jury is still out: us, the public. President Obama is a known quantity and has been a knowable quantity to anyone willing to dig a bit since he first burst on the national scene. He’s doing what you’d expect a movement Leftist to do. The president’s opposition is feckless in many ways, and they don’t fight the way many conservatives would like to see them fight, but let’s not mistake fecklessness for stupidity. When they seem paralyzed to act, it is not just because they lack backbone; it is also because they have surveyed the landscape and concluded there is significant political risk in fighting the president. To be sure, they miscalculate a lot, but I don’t think they are making that up out of whole cloth.

The question is whether a significant majority of the American people still care about individual liberty and having a government that is both limited and bound by the law. That’s why the Sisters have to sue: The administration does not perceive that the public at large cares enough about its own freedom of conscience or the Sisters’ good work to object much. It may be that the country has dramatically changed, that a lot of us don’t mind an intrusive government led by a president who rules by decree. And it may be that many people who do mind have been so beaten down by the relentless expansion of government’s tentacles and the lack of a real opposition to it in Washington that they just feel overwhelmed and powerless.