Last week many Americans discovered that their government is spying on them. We are not sure how many of them had a hunch such a thing was happening, though since 9/11, the signing of the Patriot Act, and various government snooping stories, we would guess the number to be very high.
Many rightbloggers, however, now affect ignorance of the national surveillance state, which they portray as an innovation of the Obama administration. So let us, as an American presidential candidate once said at a national convention many years ago, take them on a little stroll down memory lane.
Thanks to reporting from actual civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian (and revelations by a brave whistleblower), citizens learned a great deal about how the National Security Administration, working under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act, keeps tabs on potential foreign threats by keeping tabs on Americans, via access to Verizon phone records and, through the PRISM program, Internet records maintained by Google, Facebook, and other giant companies.
It is worth mentioning, because many news reports seem to leave it out, that PRISM, FISA, the Patriot Act, et al. all predate the Obama administration–and, despite an understandable exudation of Fourth Amendment concerns in Congress, are likely to survive it, alas.
One thing’s for sure: Many of us back in the day opposed the Patriot Act and all the expansions of the national security state that came after the 9/11 attacks, and nobody gave a shit–except rightbloggers, who called us idiots and traitors.
So it has been interesting, if not surprising, to see what great civil libertarians these erstwhile data-cops have suddenly become.
This week Rush Limbaugh told us that we must resist the NSA and tyrant Obama’s “coup d’etat.” “The mature thinkers that weighed in and sound reason and levelheadedness assured us that there was nothing to fear here because this was just metadata, and in fact this is something we should all be thankful that the government is able to do,” said Limbaugh. “… I’m listening to all the smart people tell me this, my mind is about to explode, and I’m saying, ‘Do these people not realize what we just learned in the last three weeks?’ … Clearly there’s a coup d’etat going. You know it and I know it. This is what animates us. This is why the Tea Party exists.”
Something about that sound a little un-Rushlike to you? Let’s bring some vintage 2005 Limbaugh up from the cellar: “Ask the families, ask the people who were in the World Trade Center towers right before they were attacked if they are more concerned with the loss of their civil liberties than the loss of their lives,” wailed Limbaugh. “… I’m not going to accept the premise that civil liberties have been violated. … The Patriot Act hasn’t been diddly-squat to me. … The press is disloyal as ever, nobody is stopping their anti-American reporting apart from a prosecutor that they demanded.” What changed in the meantime? Oh right–Black Hitler.
Last week, John Hinderaker of Power Line was outraged by the NSA news, and pleaded, “hasn’t the time come to lay the government’s cards on the table? It strikes me that whatever price might be paid in our anti-terror efforts will be small compared to the value of arriving at a consensus about what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy in the 21st century.” Also, he wanted “a much fuller and more systematic disclosure of what the federal government is currently doing by way of data collection. … As a starting point, we could use some truthful testimony by Obama administration officials before Congressional committees.”
Time-tunnel, take us to 2006, when Hinderaker was much less interested in the sight of the government’s cards: “Liberals are jumping up and down about USA Today‘s publication of another leak relating to the National Security Agency,” said Hinderaker. “It’s considered a news flash that the NSA is collecting data on phone calls, with the cooperation of almost all of the major telecom companies, to look for suspicious patterns.” That Hinderaker also said of the then-recent London terror bombings, “sounds like they should have listened in on those calls. These are exactly the kind of communications that are intercepted by the NSA under the terrorist surveillance program that has been widely denounced by Democrats.”
Last week Ed Morrissey of Hot Air cried the beloved country: “Contra the training materials, this is very much something to worry about–especially for the Obama administration. … This means that the NSA and FBI have access to communications of the legislative and judicial branches–at least those that go through public servers, no? Maybe Congress would like to invite Eric Holder up for another session really soon. They’d better send it by carrier pigeon.”
A fluttering-calendar montage takes us back to January 2009, where we find Morrissey in a different mood about surveillance: “Hmmm. This should really enrage the Left,” chuckled Ghost of Morrissey Past. “The FISA court will make public a ruling that validates George Bush’s warrantless surveillance on international communications, including those with one terminus in the United States. … In the end, though, the biggest beneficiary should be George Bush. He has been unfairly castigated as some sort of fascist for using the power he already had available to track terrorist communications and keep this nation safe. Plenty of people owe him a big apology–and the New York Times and Eric Lichtblau are first in line.”
Radio howler Mark Levin, last week: “I tell you what I make of this–we have the elements of a police state here, and I’m not overstating it. … You don’t throw a whole net on the entire country and everybody’s phone numbers and check the duration and see if you can come up with some overlaps. That’s not law enforcement. That’s not how national security works.” Radio howler Mark Levin, 2006: “The Constitution and precedent make clear that the president, especially during war-time, can intercept enemy communications, including if those communications involve U.S. citizens within the United States. It is absurd to argue otherwise.”
Last week RedState contributor Moe Lane called the NSA revelations “a reminder to big-government enthusiasts: this is in fact what you ordered.” Flashback: In 2009, when Eric Holder committed to the Patriot Act, Lane said, “Actually, in this context ‘same as the old boss’ would be a comfort. To me, at least, if not the folks who made such a hullabaloo over the PATRIOT Act…”
“‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.’ ― George Orwell, 1984,” was The Anchoress‘ reaction last week. But in 2006 — record scratch! “It looks like President Bush’s terrible policies helped foil this latest attempt, despite the best efforts by the NY Times and others to cripple necessary programs,” said the Anchoress of Ought-Six. “…I keep remembering Harry Reid crowing, ‘we killed the Patriot Act’…” Also, when she found out that the New York Times had tipped off terrorists to the Bush Administration’s secret wiretaps by putting them in a newspaper, Anchoress ’06 went into a long, maudlin 9/11 reverie, then roared, “We will direct every resource at our command — every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war — to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network.… I’m a New Yorker, and if it happens again in New York, I will hold these ‘pure, patriotically motivated’ leakers (yes, they’re leakers) responsible, because they allowed their hate to take them too far.”
(In another recent column, The Anchoress wrote, ” Our ‘watchdog’ media surrendered its teeth to this administration in 2007 and has been rolled over waiting for belly rubs ever since. They gave up all of their credibility to be able to ask Obama how he got so great, and what ‘enchants’ him…” We thought Obama was first elected in 2008, but maybe NSA’s Men in Black have erased our memories.)
We could go on (and on and on and on and on), but we’d need NSA-scale resources to keep track of all the conversion narratives. Suffice to say that these people are so full of shit it’s a marvel they haven’t all erupted into fecal geysers.
Some of the brethren were at least consistent, War on Whatchamacallit-wise. They believed in the panopticon state back in Bush days, and they by God still believe it. But they mostly labored, or were frog-marched, toward the conclusion that this was different because something something Obama Hitler.
Though mocking liberals who weren’t immediately re-outraged by government surveillance became a popular rightblogger schtick, some acknowledged that many liberals are in fact pissed about the overreach — which was even more reason to hate them, and Obama. Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom had to admit that “to be fair, many on the left are showing some consistency” in that “they opposed these kinds of high tech attempts to thwart orchestrated terror attacks when it was President Bush whose Administration was attempting to stop them…”
But for Goldstein that consistency wasn’t a good thing — on the contrary, it showed that “the left in general is still so committed to its institutional belief that the country itself is evil and in need of punishment that they continue to embrace impediments to our security, be it for terror threats or border policing.” Worse still: “And a fair number of Republicans and libertarians join them.”
Not that Obama got any credit from Goldstein for doing as Goldstein would have done; by being Obama, you see, he ruins it. “The cabal of Marxists occupying the highest positions of power most certainly problematize programs such as these” — “problematize,” for those of you who are not semioticians, means “gives liberal cooties to.” Also, “it is Obama’s leftist sanctimony… that is on display, because the moment his Administration suffered a successful terror attack on US soil, only then did they put this program into action, limiting it to 3 months.” So Obama erred by not doing massive, intrusive surveillance fast enough! You can’t win, except elections.
Michelle Malkin admitted to being a fan of “the NSA’s post-9/11 efforts to collect and connect the jihad dots during the Bush years.” (And boy was she ever!) But this Obama-era NSA surveillance is different, she explained.
How? Because Obama went to the trouble to get warrants, whereas Bush didn’t always? Well, yes — but that makes Bush’s expeditions better, Malkin said, because “if the Bush administration chose to pursue FISA warrants, failed to obtain them, let the information go to waste, and allowed another attack to occur as a result, is there any question the finger-waggers at the NYTimes would be the first to attack the President for failing to do everything necessary to prevent it?” Obama’s surveillance, like Bush’s, was for national security reasons — but the Times would have wagged its finger at Bush if it failed, which is the tie-breaker.
Also, said Malkin, “the American public stood with Bush. They trusted him on national security matters,” whereas Michelle Malkin doesn’t trust Obama, at least as great a loss as the faith of the American people. (We are of course joking; we have long observed their work and know that when rightbloggers refer to the American people, they mean only themselves.)
Others just sort of free-associated their way toward an anti-Obama angle. Before the identity of the NSA leaker was revealed, law professor Ann Althouse said, “I suspect it was someone who wanted to distract us from the IRS scandal (and other scandals) so that the scandal of the moment would be one that’s about Bush.” Wheels within wheels! When the leaker’s identity was revealed, Althouse said, “I suspect that he — and those in media whom he worked with — timed this to shape opinion about Bradley Manning, whose trial began this past week.” Full of interesting opinions, she is. Elsewhere Althouse said, “I feel the mainstream tide turning against Obama,” which she must have gotten through the same magic pipeline as Malkin.
One might almost feel sorry for Andrew McCarthy, former prosecutor and torture enthusiast. He started out with a full-throated defense of national security operations called “Phone Record Gathering Story Blown Out of Proportion,” in which he argued “[the government’s] highest responsibility is to protect the nation, and they ‘cannot connect the dots,’ as we demand that they do, unless you let them have the dots in the first place.” McCarthy did, of course, slam Obama too (“Now, we begin to see the wages of having an administration that abuses its awesome powers, then, as night follows day, stonewalls and misleads Congress and the public”), but essentially cleaved to his prosecutorial legacy.
McCarthy was then challenged by readers and, more importantly, National Review capo Jonah Goldberg: “I think McCarthy’s missing something,” said Goldberg. “No, I don’t have much confidence in this administration. But I don’t have an abundance of confidence in government generally… The arrival of ‘big data’… creates opportunities for government (and corporations) that were literally unimaginable not long ago. Behavioral economists, neuroscientists, and liberal policy wonks have already fallen in love with the idea of using these new technologies and insights to ‘nudge’ Americans into making ‘better’ decisions…”
Believe us, we could have reproduced Goldberg’s entire column and it wouldn’t be any clearer, but the gist is this: Surely we rightbloggers can draw some wider, anti-big-gummint-liberal point out of this controversy, without betraying our love for the NSA?
McCarthy responded humbly and contritely: “Yeah, I know, I’m agreeing with someone who argues that I’m at least half wrong. But I think Jonah’s column this morning strikes exactly the right note — on the NSA phone records controversy, skepticism is what is called for.” Some connections are more important than “connecting the dots,” apparently. “Those of us inclined to be supportive of the program have not made a compelling argument, at least not yet, on this aspect of the controversy,” pleaded McCarthy. “Those who follow our debates here know I am no fan of big, centralized government,” etc.
Eventually McCarthy ended up right where you’d expect: Surveillance is wrong when it’s politically useful for it to be wrong. (“If this were September 12, 2001 — or maybe even Boston on April 15, 2013 — there would be no NSA controversy. But what if the politics is such that an American president blinks his eyes and pronounces the end of a war the enemy is still fighting?”)
This “right panopticon, wrong President” spin has gained traction among the brethren.
“The PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America,” admitted Peter Wehner at Commentary. “But in the wrong hands — in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies — it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive. My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.” Peter Wehner thinks Obama is corrupt, therefore, he doesn’t have a right to run the NSA, or anything else, despite his recent electoral victory.
Or was it a victory? Using the hoary “reader email” device, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit floated the idea that PRISM actually stole the election for Obama. “I’ve been wondering why nobody that I’ve read has connected this to Obama’s high tech campaign that won the election,” said one alleged email. “I thought I was the only thinking such thoughts,” said another. (It’s like Penthouse Letters for conspiracy theorists!) “…The turnouts still make no sense to me. How does someone vote for McCain and not for Romney?… What if data (from NSA or Google or Facebook or Apple) was used to reduce Romney’s turnout by identifying lukewarm voters and shaping social network messages with the intent of getting them to stay home?” This person also thought the Romney tech campaign was “hacked” by Obama/NSA. “Well,” commented Reynolds in his own voice, “it’s certainly nothing you can dismiss out of hand, at this point.”
Another Instapundit “reader email” conspiracist thought maybe Google was playing double agent: “What if Google killed Reader (a decision that still seems to make little sense to the active user) over PRISM?” he asked. “That is, for those that use Reader for their surfing, it’s a giant collated list of most of what they do online. If the feds were including Reader requests along with all of the email, etc. that they were scooping up, might Google’s best defense (if they were in fact trying to follow the ‘Don’t be Evil credo’) be to simply discontinue the service and at least quit generating the history going forward?” This person also speculated that Nate Silver predicted the election so accurately because Obama fed him NSA data.
“Please withhold my name if published,” continued the “reader.” “…Though I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, since they’re reading this email anyway.” “I think people are catching on,” said “Glenn Reynolds.”
“Call Data Scares Scandal-Weary Americans” announced Commentary‘s Bethany Mandel, on the authority of Malkin- and Althouse-type evidence. While “the data mining that the NSA took part in was both legal and necessary,” she said, “…what may have seemed like paranoid delusions just a month ago now are a reality. Could the call data taken from Verizon customers (do we really believe that this collection is limited to Verizon customers?) be used by other governmental agencies to track the calls of conservative activists or journalists reporting on stories that aren’t in the interest of the Obama administration?”
“On the one hand, I’m concerned about those who have bad intent towards the country,” claimed William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. “But I’m also concerned with what could be done with the information gathered about American citizens not suspected of a crime if put into the hands of politicians and political groups, and bureaucrats who work for or are sympathetic to such politicians and political groups.” In case you weren’t sure what he was getting at, Jacobson added, “Obamacare will put into the hands of the IRS medical and health information of an unprecedented level. As bad as leaks as to which websites you visit would be, the threat of leakage of your medical information could be equally devastating to freedom of speech and the political process.” It’s one thing to give this power to Bush, but Obama will give your pap smear to terrorists!
And so the President doing what nearly all the rightbloggers consider to be his job — in the aggressive manner they have long endorsed — has been spun as proof that he’s not fit to do it. As their hasty switcheroo on the issue shows, they aren’t really concerned with civil liberties — nor, apparently, with national security, though they sure spent a long time pretending. We all know the Ben Franklin quote, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”; well, these guys don’t care about either. Their only concern is with power, and they see this controversy, mixed with the “scandals” they’ve been stirring, as a means to get it.
If you doubt this, watch and see whether they put as much effort into dismantling the Patriot Act as they do trying to get Obama impeached.