Saturday, June 08, 2013


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.

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.
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."

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....

I wouldn't rely on Congress to keep things under control. It's really up to the president.
But as Adam Serwer says:

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.


Arjay said...

The Republicans are quite capable of tarring Obama for something they are deeply complicit in. They do it all the time. Politics of chutzpah (defined as murdering your parents then pleading for mercy because you're an orphan). It's an art they've been refining for years.

Chris Andersen said...

Sadly, I fear much the same thing. And I suspect that some progressives will be willing pawns in the coming farce as they have so many times in the past.

I used to be of that sort, always ready to jump at the latest news of an outrage from leaders who were supposed to be on my side. That is, until I realized one day that I was being conned. Since then I've always been more willing to wait and see how a story develops before jumping on the outrage band-wagon, *especially* when it comes to someone I support.

Victor said...

Yes, they'll attack Obama, and frame the Democrats, because that's what they're good at (maybe the only thing they're good at) - and the Democrats are good at letting the Republicans frame them.

This is all about the next two elections.
And they'll still try to keep that old Benghazi tire pumped-up, in case Hillary does decide to run.

Never Ben Better said...

I'm already seeing the Obama-targeting at various liberal/left blogs; people trying to take a wider, more dispassionate look at the issue (hi, Chris!) appear to be in the minority, dismissed as O-bots, or just plain ignored.

If the GOP plays this right, they can have their much-longed-for impeachment and an unfettered security apparatus for their president to take over in January 2017.

Anonymous said...

Of course this is what they're doing. They're taking the Greenwald et al gripes about civil liberties and executive power and treating them as of a piece with the IRS thing and Benghazi: thus, a grand unified theory -- "Obama is so corrupt he's watching YOU, not The Terrorists." The way to handle it is going to have to be to push Obama to make changes, or to push Congress to push Obama to make changes, and make it clear that the changes are consistent with Obama's own recently stated views about the end of the war on terror and the return to normality for executive power.

Libby Spencer said...

You are in my head, reading my thoughts.

Examinator said...

Wash you mind out with soap then? I wondered were all the naughty thought came from. ;-)

The truth is the democrats are trying to fix a manipulated instinct driven emotional response with reason! Targeting the wrong part of the brain.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Who is that "we" in your last sentence? What are you going to do about it? What did you expect your readers to do about it?

Steve M. said...

What am I personally going to do about it? Nothing on my own, because on my own I'm utterly powerless. This has to be changed via a broad shift in public opinion and via agitation by groups that manages to shift even more public opinion.

I'm not a leader. I'm not much of a joiner. This is what I do. I never claimed I was going to lead the revolution because that's not what I'm any good at.