President Obama's administration valiantly walked into the white house on January 20, 2009, pledging to be the most transparent term leaders in history. Since then, the administration has targeted more national-security whistleblowers under President Woodrow Wilson's Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined.
That's a scary stat. But it's one we can fight from getting any worse, too.
The month of May has undoubtedly been an especially rough one for the president and his cabinet. We are all now savvy to the unraveling news of the IRS scandalously targeting and discriminating against conservative groups in its research and of the Department of Justice permitting and defending the secret intrusion into months of AP phone records and warrantless investigation of citizens' private digital files. They may be issues we are not accustomed to in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, but they're happening with growing frequency.
The media uproar that has succeeded these recent events has been a chaotic clash of left- and right-leaning rhetoric, including post-9/11 freakouts over security, government impunity, and civil liberties, as well as anger, distrust, apathy, and disappointment. The growing complications in overlapping levels of government document classification and soaring totals of internal government documentation only aggravate the situation. It feels like this battle between liberty and security has been a horse every American has wanted to take a turn beating for more than a decade now. And trust me, I agree, it is an important horse to beat, but it is also one that may forever strike opposing ideologies differently. That's to say, it may forever be our national punching bag.
What I think we can all agree upon, however, is that the United States government is currently lawfully and opaquely taking more information from its citizens than Americans are from it. And that is not the purpose for which our democratic agenda was created.
When I told my French friend (who has lived in the States for over three years now) that I was writing an article on the American government's overextension into the private lives of its citizens, he responded, in his typically groovy-European tone, "it's democratic tyranny here, baby!"
Of course, his comment can be easily laughed off, taken with the appropriate grain of salt. But it can also be a little choking.
Over 200 years ago, our founding fathers wrote the Constitution with the purpose of preventing precisely the kind of heavy-handed government control we've been discussing in the news over the past week. The recent IRS, DOJ, and AP scandals resemble the kind of news associated with dysfunctional dictatorships throughout history — read anything on Stalin, Mao, and Pinochet and you'll find governments that know too much and citizens that know too little. Trust me, I do still think democracy prevails in this country, but six cases of Espionage Act — a law passed to protect the World War I-era country from "insidious methods of internal hostile activities" — being applied to prosecute leaks of classified information to the media, juxtaposed alongside these secret government agency investigations, is unprecedentedly hypocritical.
So citizens, I urge you, use the devices readily available to make our message heard. As PolicyMic's Mark Kogan brilliantly suggests, these topics of discussion should not be objectified tools to throw around at each other in upcoming campaign seasons, but rather topics of informed and open conversation between the people and their representatives. Use We Are the People. Use strength in numbers. If my time abroad in South America has taught me anything, it's that poised, peaceful protest can be incredibly stimulating and effective. We have a problem with hypocrisy; we can do something about it.
Openness and transparency, our pillars of democracy, may have been shaken, but they certainly have not crumbled. We are the architects who can build them again.