RICHMOND, Va. — If Virginia’s ultra-conservative attorney general needs to appeal to moderate Republicans in his campaign for governor, his new book probably isn’t going to help.
In “The Last Line of Defense,” Ken Cuccinelli argues that the federal government and President Barack Obama’s administration — which he labels “the biggest set of lawbreakers in America” — are eroding individual liberties and exceeding constitutional boundaries.
He says politicians use programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to trap people into a cycle of government dependency to boost their own power rather than to try to help them.
Those are all points sure to resonate with Cuccinelli’s conservative base — including the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation, which he thanks in the book’s acknowledgements — and provide fodder for opponents to use against him in November’s gubernatorial election.
Cuccinelli said he’s not worried about that.
“This book wasn’t written for politics. It wasn’t written for a governor’s race. It was written because we believe the government continues to burden and attack liberty, and we need to push back,” Cuccinelli said in an interview.
The book will be released Tuesday, and media reports based on excerpts or advance reviews already have prompted criticism. Among the passages drawing the most attention are those dealing with federal safety net programs.
“These programs make people dependent on government,” Cuccinelli writes. “And once people are dependent, they feel they can’t afford to have the programs taken away, no matter how inefficient, poorly run or costly to rest of society.”
He also writes: “Sometimes bad politicians set out to grow government in order to increase their own power and influence. …The amazing thing is that they often grow government without protest from citizens, and sometimes they even get buy-in from citizens — at least from the ones getting the goodies.”
Democratic legislators criticized those remarks as demeaning to benefit recipients. Cuccinelli dismissed the reactions as partisan attacks.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who abandoned his bid for the GOP nomination for governor after the party’s governing body switched from a primary to a convention that will be stacked with Cuccinelli supporters, said he hasn’t read the book but disagrees with excerpts he’s seen reported in the press.
“I don’t think it’s smart or productive to make comments that could be interpreted as criticizing everyone who receives a benefit from government,” Bolling said in a written statement. “Not every government program is bad, and not everyone who receives a government benefit is dependent on government.”
He concluded: “I just don’t think Mr. Cuccinelli’s ideas are consistent with what a majority of Virginians believe.”
Cuccinelli said critics are misinterpreting his position.
“The recipients of these programs is not what we’re addressing,” he said. “Politicians try to use these programs for political advantage, and it isn’t just for the positive ends of the program.”
In one passage, Cuccinelli relates a personal experience to illustrate his view that “taking care of the poor is ideally the province first of families, churches, and charities, not the government.” He writes about a time when his mother was ill, and the Cuccinellis got by with the help of extended family.
Asked whether he believes that should be the solution for all struggling families, Cuccinelli said: “Of course, as much self-reliance as people can muster for themselves is best. It’s part of the history of this country. But I think there’s a general consensus government should help those who, for a variety of reasons, are unable help themselves for a period of time. We can all debate how much and how to do it and the mechanics of it, but that’s not what we’re challenging in this book. What we’re challenging is government’s apparent ready willingness to take a program— pick a program — and overstep its boundaries to expand its own power.”
In his book, the prime example underlying Cuccinelli’s theme of federal overreach is Obama’s health care reform law, which he unsuccessfully challenged in court. Cuccinelli devotes a good portion of the first half of the book to recounting Virginia’s lawsuit and a similar challenge by several other states, which resulted in a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the law.
The court agreed with Cuccinelli and other state attorneys general — the “last line of defense” referenced in the book’s title — that the law could not be upheld based on the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, but ruled that the key provision requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty was a constitutional exercise of the government’s taxing powers.
Cuccinelli is particularly critical of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He writes that during arguments she insisted that the penalty was not a tax, but then ruled the other way without explanation. According to Cuccinelli, “it appeared that Justice Ginsburg completely abandoned what she knew to be the constitutionally correct conclusion to get the outcome she wanted — to uphold Obamacare.”
Cuccinelli also writes about battles he has waged against federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Nothing in the book, he said, should come as a surprise to those who know him or have followed his political career.
“This is my record as AG,” he said. “I stand or fall with it.”
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