“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Pete Townshend’s cynical assessment of political change is as true now as it ever was.
After the executive overreach of the Bush years, when the security state dug its claws deep into the American landscape, voters ready for a change elected Barack Obama, a loud critic of that overreach.
The first time they thought the Democrat would take a different approach to the war on terror and restore civil liberties undermined by the Bush team’s take on keeping us safe.
The second time they knew, or should have known, that the one-time critic of executive power had changed his tune on waging the long war. Gitmo remained open and drone strikes increased to the point that the military actually considered a medal for the joystick jockeys who pilot the unmanned killing machines by remote control.
Under Obama’s watch we started killing American citizens overseas, citing the same authority that allows us to blow up foreign nationals we believe are threats, damn the collateral damage.
Another Bush-era tool that Obama’s national security apparatus has embraced and expanded is data collection, as the masses learned last week through a pair of revelatory leaks of classified information by Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who worked for one of the myriad private contractors that make up the surveillance state.
First came news that for months, maybe years, the federal government has been keeping tabs on just about every phone call made by Verizon customers. (And let’s not fool ourselves, other providers have likely been tapped as well.) They haven’t been listening in, the experts say, just collecting the numbers of calls going out and coming in because they might provide valuable intelligence.
Within a day, we learned about the government’s ability to tap directly into U.S. Internet providers lines to track all Internet usage under the National Security Agency’s Prism program.
Officials from Obama to Congressional leaders defended the programs as key weapons against our enemies and pointed to plots that had been stymied as a result..
Like the police chief in “Casablanca,” the media elites who rub shoulders with the officials who authorize and oversee the secret intelligence gathering were “shocked” to discover the government is spying on its own citizens – and that it’s all perfectly legal. They shouldn’t be. And neither should we.
That ship sailed a decade ago when we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry. Congress fell all over itself giving the president the power to wage an open-ended war and then providing the legal loopholes the commander in chief could use to do whatever is deemed necessary.
Now that we have a somewhat clearer idea of what that means, the question we as citizens need to ask ourselves is whether we’re OK with a government that can, as Snowden described it, “watch your ideas form as you type.”
It’s a hard question because some people have some pretty bad ideas.