Mitt Romney is a dangerous man

Some 25 years ago, when I was young and stupid, I was swept off my feet by Jonathan Schell’s book “The Fate of the Earth.” Schell’s argument consisted of three propositions.

First, he set out to prove that a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union would be a very bad thing. It’s fair to say he succeeded.

His other two claims were more problematic. According to Schell, morally serious people were under an obligation to take the threat of nuclear war very seriously — so seriously, that thinking seriously about the end of the world as we know it pretty much precluded thinking about anything else.

Even more problematic was Schell’s conclusion regarding where are all this very serious thinking should lead. Although “The Fate of the Earth” was alarmingly vague about what, exactly, could be done about what the book described as an intolerable situation, Schell argued that many of the basic goods of our society, such as, for example, “liberty,” had “become inimical to life and must be swept away.”

Schell’s book became the unofficial bible of the nuclear freeze movement. I was a college student at the time, and I recall the rapturous reception a campus speaker received when he claimed that unilateral disarmament was the only moral response to the threat of nuclear annihilation.

“Fate of the Earth” hasn’t aged too well. Michael Kinsley has suggested that it “may be the silliest book ever taken seriously by serious people.”

Yet an argument quite similar to Schell’s is now being made by a new generation of very serious thinkers — except this argument is far more absurd and dangerous than Schell’s ever was.

An example of this new argument is provided by Mitt Romney, in his response to a Boston Globe questionnaire regarding the limits of presidential power. Romney’s basic position is that, given the supposedly existential threat posed by terrorism, there are almost no limits on what a president may do.

Romney either explicitly claims or strongly implies that, among other things, the president may spy on Americans without a warrant, even in the face of a statue that prohibits this; that he may attack other countries without congressional authorization; that he may ignore treaties ratified by the Senate; and that he may issue signing statements reserving the right to ignore laws enacted under his signature.

What justifies these extraordinary claims, which in effect would turn the presidency of the United States into something resembling a dictatorship? The answer, it turns out, is exactly the same one given by Schell: given the magnitude of the threat, “liberty” is something we can no longer afford. As Romney puts it, “our most basic civil liberty is the right to be kept alive.”

But Romney’s views — which of course are similar to the Bush administration’s — are actually far more unhinged and dangerous than Schell’s. After all, the threat of nuclear apocalypse really was ever-present during the cold war. The U.S. and the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at each other, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice.

Romney, by contrast, is willing to tear up the Constitution because of the possibility that terrorists may eventually acquire one such weapon. (It’s worth noting the people now claiming terrorists with one hypothetical weapon are more dangerous than Russians with ten thousand real ones, because the Soviets were “rational,” are often the same people who used to claim the Godless communists couldn’t be deterred because they had no respect for human life).

A more crucial difference is that, even during the height of the nuclear freeze era, the extremists calling for unilateral disarmament had no real political power.

Unfortunately today’s extremists are either sitting in the White House or working hard to get inside.

(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)


  1. Sandra Price

    Yes sir, Mr. Campos. Many of us have written about the power of terrorism. I even discovered a DVD from the BBC that exposes this constant and terrifying use of fear. If you are interested in this DVD, it is called “The Power of Nightmares” and goes into the history of scaring the hell out of Americans starting after WW2.

    I confess I am an Atheist basically because I refuse to be pushed into terrorism and wars. 9/11 was turned into a brand new force from D.C. to protect us from ourselves. We now have the religious right writing prohibitions to be added to the Constitution to keep us from allowing gays to marry, abortions, death with dignity and if we believe the current Republicans they will ban divorce, birth control and gambling; because they are family men.

    Apparently the religious right wants full personal control over the American people. If the voters do put Romney, Huckabee and possibly Rudy in the White House, it will mean the end of our personal and private choices.

    I will not be directed by some Conservative hypocrite and will if necessary move to Mexico or someplace warm. The voters are such sheep!

  2. kiki

    Dubya has opened Pandora’s box. Our rights have been trampled along with Habeas Corpus. Never again will we feel comfortable sending an email or making a phone call.

    Let’s examine for a moment just “why” these current candidates decided to run for president. All of them have achieved fame and fortune to a greater or lesser degree. What would make these people subject themselves ( and their families ) to the intense scrutiny and the hardships of what appears to be an endless election cycle this year?

    A one word answer will suffice: Power.

    The candidates all will spout platitudes about how it is time for a change, they want to lead our country in a new direction and so on. I’d be pleased to truly believe it from any of them. However,my feeling is now that Cheney/Bush have empowered themselves and the office with the unitary executive theory, anyone who is elected is going to be loathe to relenquish those powers.

    We’ve found,to our chagrin, just how easy it was to steal our rights in secret. Pandora’s box has been opened and moral ( and legal ) lines have been crossed. Romney and Guiliani are only being forthright about what all the others have no doubt considered privately. Our rights will never be completely restored to us no matter who is elected.

    Because it’s all about the power.

  3. Steve Horn

    With a weak congress seated and a stacked, compliant judiciary the President does have nearly unlimited power.

    The list of “leaders” who based their power on fear is broad and long, Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet and many, many others through the years. Fear of Jews, fear of intellectuals, fear of free thinking people, they created fear to bolster their power.

    In every case the population was lied to, threatened and opposing voices silenced.

    It’s been obvious to me for some time that Bush, Romney, Guiliani and others apparently have joined or would like to join their ranks. In generations past their actions would have been called treason, now they seem to be called “strong”. This perpetuation of fear among out populace could very well be the undoing of the dream that was America if we fail to awaken the general population to the lies.



  4. jyakubow


    I’m afraid that awakening the general population to the lies would be impossible to accomplish. I agree with Sandra, the voters are like sheep. I am constantly amazed at the gullibility of the people around me. I received an email titled “The Enemy Within” claiming that Barack Obama is a “radical, ideological Muslim”. The writer of the email said “I checked this out on and its true!” I went to and found that it isn’t true, yet thousands of people believed and forwarded this email to all of their friends. What is one to do?