The non-scandal scandal – OMG! You mean the government is doing what it’s been doing for the last decade since we as a people told it that it could do it? – has raised some interesting dynamics in American society and culture.
For instance, for all the foofaraw you hear in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kanagaroo) and the rightwing blogosphere, the American people seem reasonably OK with the revelations that the government can pretty much know who we’re talking to at any time.
We don’t just get the government we deserve. We seem to get the freedom we deserve. Here, I have to give the bloodthirsty monotonous savages at the NRA and the Gun Owners of America some credit: they’re putting up a real fight for a freedom, even if it’s an antiquated and misguided freedom at best in a modern society.
For another thing, it’s been interesting to see some of the same folks come out now, arguing against the NSA program as well as the government intrusion into the Associated Press phone records and giving full throated support to Edward Snowden, who also stood behind the Bush administration when Valarie Plame was being skewered and castigated for being involved in essentially the same whistleblower activity (via her husband, no less).
I’m of two minds about this: as someone who was vocal in his opposition to the war in Iraq, I suspect my name came up in at least one database under the Bush administration and while I was probably given a surveillance miss – altho for reasons unrelated to my politics, I know I was vetted at least once last decade – that part of me is tempted to say “Welcome to the party, pal!”
On the flip side, the Libertarian in me – the kind that actually cares about the rights of everyone and not the greedy selfish pigdog kind like Rand and Ron Paul – believes this is an incredibly dangerous program and I was against it before I was even more against it.
The sad thing about rights is, we don’t get to pick and choose from a menu: if you abandon a right, and she abandons her right, and he abandons his right, I don’t get a choice to keep mine in a democratic society. I’m under the same dictatorial knife edge that you are. I don’t get a card that gives me a privilege.
It’s not even like we received a benefit in return. Security? We have had one major terrorist attack in the past century that killed thousands, and one that we could have easily prevented at the time (President Clinton did it for eight years). In essence, we abandoned a whole slew of rights in exchange for a retroactive promise to never let what shouldn’t have happened in the first place happen again.
It’s as if your son or daughter break curfew and your response is, “Well, what time would you like to come home next time? Here, take my car keys!” (pace Jon Stewart)
I think it’s too late now for any recovery of these rights, barring a major uprising in a country of people easily distracted by the next sports championship or The Voice or Kim Kardashian’s breasts. Or even distracted by the petty bickering of partisans over a very narrow range of opinions.
Noam Chomsky says it best: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”