National Review’s Ponnuru defends Bill Barr from partisan attacks

Attorney General Bill Barr is frequently attacked by the left for his refusal to fall in line, a recent example being a New York Times opinion piece luridly titled, “Bill Barr Thinks America is Going to Hell.” The piece was written by Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, and Caroline Fredrickson, president of the liberal American Constitution Society.

In response, conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru took to the pages of National Review to expose just how weak their attacks on Barr really are.  

Lots of charges, little support

Ponnuru begins by quoting their opening shot:

“Why would a seemingly respectable, semiretired lion of the Washington establishment undermine the institutions he is sworn to uphold, incinerate his own reputation, and appear to willfully misrepresent the reports of special prosecutors and inspectors general, all to defend one of the most lawless and corrupt presidents in American history?” Stewart and Frederickson wrote.

Yet as he goes on to point out, the pair make no attempt to justify their characterization of President Trump as being “one of the most lawless and corrupt presidents in American history” — a statement which Barr and many others might dispute. Instead, “Their assertions are taken as givens.”

He then moves to their next charge:

“Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the ‘religious liberty’ rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke ‘religious freedom,’ it is typically code for religious privilege.”

No argument that Barr’s views are wrong

Ponnuru points out that, “Generally when people are using a ‘code,’ they know that the surface meaning of what they are saying is not the real meaning.”

Despite this, Stewart and Fredrickson “offer no evidence that Barr secretly shares their own view of what religious liberty is and isn’t and is merely cynically using the phrase to conceal his drive for privilege. Nor, of course, do they mount any kind of argument that the views Barr professes to believe about religious liberty are actually wrong.”

Again Ponnuru chides, “Their assertions will have to suffice.”

Finally, Stewart and Fredrickson accuse Barr of having an “ends justify the means” mindset along with a “commitment to religious authoritarianism.” This is “a pretty strong claim,” Ponnuru notes, “supported by. . . nothing.”

Ponnuru thus concludes that while the authors’ presumptions might need no justification to those who already hold them, the uncommitted “have been given no reason” to buy in.

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