A Book from the Man Who Was Tea Party before There Was a Tea Party

By James A. Bacon

If you’re doing opposition research on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and you’re looking for evidence of a wild-eyed culture warrior, you’ll find thin gruel in his new book, “The Last Line of Defense,” co-written with his communications director Brian Gottstein. The book chronicles the struggle of the AG and his conservative peers in other states against the Obama administration’s unconstitutional power grabs in pursuit of an expansive, big-government agenda. Abortion, gay rights and other culture-war touchstones make no appearance.

Instead, describing the Obama administration as “the biggest set of lawbreakers in America,” the book soberly develops the argument that President Obama has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution in pursuit of its goals in health care, global warming, labor relations and net neutrality.

“No other president, no other administration has had such a willful disregard for the law,” writes Cuccinelli. He elaborates:

The Obama administration aggressively used administrative agencies like the [Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Communications Commission] and their unelected bureaucrats to accomplish policy objectives that the people’s elected representatives in Congress wouldn’t even approve. President Obama and his appointees time and time again ignored any limit to their power that they found inconvenient – federal laws, binding rulings of federal courts, and the Constitution – all to make government work in ways they couldn’t achieve through the democratic process.

In the book, Cuccinelli promises an inside look at those legal conflicts. In clear, concise language, he explains the concepts of enumerated powers, checks and balances and the co-sovereignty of federal and state governments as they apply to Obamacare and other initiatives, and he spells out the legal logic behind the succession of lawsuits and appeals that he and others filed in opposition. Along the way, he makes occasional forays into policy questions – what “should be” as opposed to what is “legal.”

Political junkies will be disappointed. Cuccinelli offers few anecdotes and has next to nothing to say about the political personalities involved. (One of the few tangible details to be found in the book is a brief description of how newsrooms and Democratic Party operatives deluged the AG’s office office with Freedom of Information Act requests seeking to determine how much money the office had spent on the Obamacare legal challenge. The apparent hope was to advance the Democrats’ claim that Cuccinelli was squandering taxpayer dollars. As it happened, the AG’s office hired no outside counsel and incurred expenses of only $22,000 over two-and-a-half years, mostly on filing fees, transcription fees, copying costs and postage.)

While some of Cuccinelli’s combativeness comes through, he remains mostly a cipher throughout the book. What we learn of him, we must deduce from the tone of his narrative. The Cooch does not come across as a back-slapping pol of the Joe Biden variety, full of engaging yarns and bonhomie. He does not engage in ad hominem attacks, labeling foes as extremists, whack-jobs, kooks or the demon seed of Ba’al, as his critics are inclined to do to him. Instead, Cuccinelli picks fights over principle, and the lodestar guiding his actions is his belief in a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.

Almost to the point of seeming bloodless, Cuccinelli engages his foes in the realm of law and ideas. One might respond that characterizing the Obama team as “lawbreakers” is invective but, in fact, it is not. He builds a case supported by a broad body of facts and constitutional theory to document his case. You may disagree with his interpretation but you cannot dismiss it as a careless slur.

In the sole departure from a civil tone that I could glean, Cuccinelli does have harsh words for the media: “I take many in the media to task in this book: those who deliberately distorted the truth in their stories (okay, this is a euphemism; actually they outright lied), those who only told half the facts (the facts that supported their world view), those who advocated for big government regardless of the consequences, and those who couldn’t help but be openly hostile in their interviews with me.”

It would have strengthened his case if he had backed up those accusations with specifics. I suspect he would have had no difficulty in doing so. Real-life anecdotes would have made good reading, and they would have highlighted the fact that “The Last Line of Defense” recounts an important untold story that the media chose not to tell:

My colleagues and I shifted the paradigm for what was expected of Republican state attorneys general. When I was elected, Texas was the only state I knew of that had some kind of standard review of laws and regulations that were considered federalism threats. We adopted that mold in Virginia and put such scrutiny on steroids.

In other words, the media have been blind to one of the most important political stories of the past four years – the emergence of Republican state attorneys general as a counterweight to President Obama’s aggressive assertion of federal power. Instead, Americans were treated to coverage that treated the AG lawsuits as epiphenomena of no great or lasting significance.

“The Last Line of Defense” is well worth reading for that reason alone. The book also provides insights into how Cuccinelli, the presumed Republican nominee for governor in the 2013 election, would govern the state, if elected. He has not backed off one iota from his self-identification as a partisan of the Tea Party movement. One can infer the book that a Governor Cuccinelli would use the powers of office to fight further erosion of Virginia state sovereignty, oppose further expansion of the welfare state (including Medicaid and the Obamacare health-care exchanges), and seek market-based reforms to make health care more affordable.

On the other hand, if your interest is simply to dredge “The Last Line of Defense” in search of wild and intemperate remarks, as seems to be the case from some early reviews of the book, save yourself the time. You won’t find anything to titillate you here.

Update: If you think Cuccinelli is exaggerating by accusing the Obama administration as acting as if there were no limits to presidential authority, read this Boomberg article published today: “When President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, the biggest question he’ll face will be how to get an ambitious second-term agenda through a divided Congress. The answer: Go around it. On climate change, gun control, gay rights, and even immigration, the White House has signaled a willingness to circumvent lawmakers through the use of presidential power.”

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4 responses to “A Book from the Man Who Was Tea Party before There Was a Tea Party”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    So women’s and gay rights among other crucial issues are unimportant to you. Too wild and intemperate? So you buy into this crafted makeover?

  2. so Obama is a unabashed serial law breaker and the Cooch opposes him.

    Okay.. so how many times has the Cooch proven his assertions in court and overturned Obama?

    and he hired no outside help for his unsuccessful challenge of ObamaCare? How many in-house state resources did he use?

    This is comical…. If Obama was really breaking the law, in the current climate with the vociferous opponents, do we think that he would have been not only challenged but overturned?

  3. Interesting about the Republican attorney generals. Basically he’s saying that it’s ok to be a “political” attorney general; in fact he thinks it’s an important movement that ought to get more media attention. Really? He doesn’t get enough media attention? I thought he was supposed to be the chief legal officer of the Commonwealth, not the head of a political movement. He may be serious, with serious beliefs, but it’s hard to take him seriously as a lawyer.

  4. On its face our A.G’s critique of President Obama’s alleged Constitutional excesses can only make sense if he embraces in his criticism the decisions of Jefferson (Louisiana Purchase), Lincoln (habeas corpus suspension), FDR (Japanese internment), Truman (his steel strike breaking) , Eisenhower (troops to the south) , Nixon (EPA policies and see his three extraordinary environmental messages) and Reagan (who rejuvenated the EPA after a false start), inter alia. We see nothing new in Obama’s Constitutional approach. It’ lies in the mainstream, while our AG lies in right field.

    The states rights Constitutional straight jacket he espouses lacks practical coherence in a fragile, embattled and polluted world that, thankfully, an organic reading of our Constitution (commerce clause included) allows us to address. He’s clearly more at home with the theories of Chief Justice Taney than with C.J. Marshall or Justice Homes. He can no more be taken seriously as viable political leader than was Goldwater when rejecting the Civil Rights Act. He’s trapped in that same Republican dogmatism that Goldwater, of course, eventually recanted.

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