In This Corner: Bill Barr’s Key Statement Was Overlooked

The Attorney General's reference to the Vietnam War period is central to today

William Barr
Attorney General William Barr on Capitol Hill. (Chen Mengtong/ Getty)
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A most amazing thing. The Attorney General advises the Senate that he intends to look into whether government intelligence services improperly targeted a presidential candidate’s election campaign, and a Senator felt the need to ask him: “And can you share with us why you feel the need to do that?”

What a strange question for a senator to ask! As if the targeting of a presidential candidate by government services is an everyday and acceptable occurrence, not worthy of attention.

Then, in reply, Barr said something which has been little remarked upon, but which to me seems the essence of the Age. He said: “The generation I grew up in, which is the Vietnam War period, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government, and there were a lot of rules in place to make sure that there’s an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance.”

I am of the same generation as Barr, so for those readers too young to remember the old days, let me second his reminder.

The liberal, progressive, peace loving, flower power, civil rights championing population of the 1960s — everyone who you would likely admire and respect — was sincerely and properly concerned with government abuse. J. Edgar Hoover had used the power of his office (and, allegedly, the extortionate power he could wield over elected presidents given his extensive files on their personal peccadillos and wrongdoings) to run his own version of rough justice against Martin Luther King Jr. and others. The CIA was caught in coups and plots that embarrassed and shocked the nation. Lyndon Johnson was too unpopular and considered too dishonest to run for a second full term, and Nixon’s wrongdoings as president (and the wrongdoings of his reelection committee and aides) further led to the distrust of government.

So why should America care if government intelligence officials are mucking around with our democracy in the same way again? Read the history books. Or ask Bill Barr.

And what has happened to that flower power, don’t trust the government consensus of the Peter Max tie-dyed days?

Some of it is still singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” at Bernie’s rallies, but some has matured in unexpected ways. If you really care about individual rights and liberties, and if you have no hatred or distrust for anyone else, then you just want the government to stay as small and far away from you as possible. You are, for want of a better word, a conservative.

Attorney General Barr — in his tortoise shell glasses, preppy suit and close-cropped hair — was, in truth, letting his Freak Flag Fly. He was protecting the individual against the State. Meanwhile, those who feign shock that anyone could care about government interference in elections appear to be perversely channeling the ghost of J. Edgar himself, just as two-and-a-half years of unfounded Russian collusion theories channeled the ghost of Wisconsin Joe McCarthy.

The Vietnam War generation — the Woodstock generation — is not the generation of 29 SWAT team members, with guns pointing, plus assault vehicles, plus amphibious vehicles, plus a CNN camera crew mysteriously on site, as they arrest a non-violent, old, unarmed man in his Florida retirement home.  The Vietnam War generation — the Woodstock generation — is not the generation of gag orders, or solitary confinement before guilt is found, or of threats to family members to extract guilty pleas.  The Vietnam War generation — the Woodstock generation — is not the generation of one political party secretly paying British spooks to plumb Russian sources for scandal dirt, or of FISA orders based on such dirt, or of anonymously sourced claims of “treason” being blasted again and again against apparently innocent people, hour after hour, for months on end.

The Vietnam War generation — the Woodstock generation — having seen J. Edgar Hoover and an out of control CIA, would have concerns over a J. Edgar Comey, a J. Edgar McCabe, a J. Edgar Brennan, a J. Edgar Strozk, if they carelessly or with bias began improper surveillance on election campaign teams of ANY party or cause.

Why does Attorney General Barr feel the need to determine if the government undertook improper political surveillance? Why indeed.

K.S. Bruce writes the “In This Corner” column of opinion and analysis for RealClearLife.

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