Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Barack Obama, Surveillor-in-Chief

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Barack Obama has done a lot of really good things as president, and I have remained for the most part enthusiastically supportive, particularly when it came to getting him re-elected last year, but I find his conduct of "national security," notably the drone war and surveillance, generally abhorrent.

And his speech on surveillance last Friday was just that. Far from being the pragmatic leader pulling the country together on a complex problem, as for example he did on race and racism following the Zimmerman verdict, he hid behind a veneer of (faux) transparency and doubled down on the assault on liberty and privacy over which he is presiding.

As Conor Friedersdorf wrote:

On Friday, President Obama spoke to us about surveillance as though we were precocious children. He proceeded as if widespread objections to his policies can be dispatched like a parent answers an eight-year-old who has formally protested her bedtime. He is so proud that we've matured enough to take an interest in our civil liberties! Why, he used to think just like us when he was younger, and promises to consider our arguments. But some decisions just have to be made by the grownups. Do we know how much he loves us? Can we even imagine how awful he would feel if anything bad ever happened while it was still his job to ensure our safety?

Friedersdorf then helpfully proceeds to break down the "disinformation," the "weasel words," the "impossible-to-believe protestations," and the "factually inaccurate assertions." For example:

The passage: 

I'm also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness, because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation.

It's the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.

But his surveillance politics and policy, whatever one thinks of it, has never been characterized by open debate. There are secret sessions conducted by Congressional committees -- and secret hearings conducted by FISA court judges -- where hugely consequential policy decisions are made. If the real world depends on the example of American openness, we are failing the world. The example we're setting is that it's okay for governments to secretly intercept the private communications data of all citizens. How would that work out in most countries? The official secrecy surrounding the NSA has already corroded U.S. democracy in real ways.

If this were Bush, or any Republican, Democrats would be outraged. But because it's Obama, many on the left have turned into surveillance state apologists. And they join those on the right, as well as throughout the establishment "center," who have little regard for liberty and privacy in any event.

But let's be blunt about this: President Obama is lying to the American people, and to the world, and in so doing is undermining the significant progress he has made in other areas, like health care and women's rights.

And that should be abhorrent even to his most ardent supporters.

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