The security state needs to be curtailed. I just wonder which narrative is going to prevail: one that focuses on surveillance excesses that need to be corrected -- or one that focuses on the president.
If it's the latter -- and I think it's going to be -- I worry that Republicans will make real political hay out of what's going on, but the surveillance policies themselves will never be in serious danger. I think the right-wing noise machine, with the help of the mainstream press, is quite capable of sustaining public anger about Obama administration surveillance programs while national-security-oriented Republicans in Congress work hand in hand with like-minded Democrats to make sure those policies aren't actually changed.
Result: Obama's approval ratings go down; Democrats (and only Democrats) are associated in the public mind with highly intrusive "big government"; Republicans make significant gains in the 2014 midterms; this scandal and others hurt the Democrats' 2016 presidential candidate the way Monicagate hurt Al Gore in 2000 ... and yet the surveillance state remains in place, and is possibly even expanded in secret by President Christie or Rubio or Jeb (all of whom would be likely to stock their administrations with veterans of the Bush White House).
The right is working hard to make us forget that these policies were the work of two presidents from two different parties, endorsed in a bipartisan way in Congresses that have had several shifts in party control, and mostly OK'd by the courts. For the right, the real and faux scandals of the past few months are table-setters for this week's revelations. Here's Rush Limbaugh:
There was a time when the United States government earned the trust of its people. There was a time when most people believed that the United States government was protecting them. There was a time when most people believed that the United States government was spying on the bad guys, that the United States government was in fact earning the trust of the people. But this current data collection, scanning, whatever you want to call it, unfortunately has to be judged in context: the IRS leaks, the now unquestionable, undeniable, admitted-to-it IRS tactic of suppressing the vote of Tea Party conservatives, denying them their First Amendment rights.So (says Limbaugh) it's a uniquely Obamaesque way of operating. It has nothing to do with the way the country was governed from 9/11 until Obama's inauguration. Pre-Obama, we were just "spying on the bad guys."
The regime and its tricks with the Associated Press and Fox reporter James Rosen, the Benghazi cover-ups, the Fast and Furious operation, suing the state of Arizona for simply endorsing essentially federal immigration law. You can't just try to be the smartest guy in the room and say, "Well, we must be levelheaded about this and understand that this is just metadata." We cannot take the motives and intelligence guided by experience watching this administration over the last four-and-a-half, five years, and what their express purpose is.
Oh, but surely the "liberal media" doesn't agree with that narrative -- right? Well, here's Gail Collins in The New York Times today:
Yeah, what about Congress? The president keeps saying that "Congress is continually briefed" about security issues. In reality, the briefing is pretty much confined to the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who are sworn to secrecy. Many of them also have a longstanding record of being in the pocket of the intelligence community. A few of the others had been desperately trying to warn their colleagues about the telephone-call program without breaking their vow of silence. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon did everything but tap dance the information in Morse code....But as Adam Serwer says:
I wouldn't rely on Congress to keep things under control. It's really up to the president.
Wyden, Udall and Merkley publicly criticized admin over what NSA was doing for years. If their colleagues didn't know they didn't want to.— AdamSerwer (@AdamSerwer) June 8, 2013
When the three of then proposed amendments to make public what NSA was doing, some if the people now saying "I didn't know" voted them down.— AdamSerwer (@AdamSerwer) June 8, 2013
Last year we watched a majority of Senators publicly vote not to know what the NSA was doing. m.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/12/s…— AdamSerwer (@AdamSerwer) June 8, 2013
I'd love to think that liberals, moderates, Obama-haters, and libertarians are going to join together on this as an issue. I'd love to think that it's going to be like gay marriage or the Iraq War -- we're going to look up and notice that the public has changed its thinking, and politicians start to realize not only that it's politically safe to join the emerging majority, but it's politically risky not to.
But I don't think that's what will happen. I think the center is going to echo the right in making this a story about Obama. I think the goal will be to get and keep Obama under 40% in the polls. I think that's the right's only goal in all this. We can't let that be the only result.