Obama Verizon Scandal: Will This Finally Turn Liberals Against Obama?

Exactly a month after President Obama told Ohio State graduates to “reject voices that warn about government tyranny,” The Guardian is reporting that at least as far back as April of this year, the FBI has forced Verizon to turn over records of every call made by its customers in the United States and all incoming calls from abroad to its U.S. customers. While many liberals have been offering defenses of the current administration, and some have even been apologetic, this latest scandal may be the breaking point that turns Democrats and Independents against the president.

With reason, the presidents supporters have been able to defend him on the topics of Benghazi, the IRS targeting, and the subpoena of AP phone records. It seems likely that warnings of the security situation in Benghazi never left the State Department, that the IRS acted alone, and that the Justice Department could be given the benefit of the doubt for the subpoena of AP records, which were after all obtained legally by subpoena.

In fact, in a poll released Wednesday, President Obama’s approval rating remains essentially unchanged over the last two months, holding steady at 48% despite the Washington controversies. What this suggests is that thus far, not surprisingly, opinions about these issues have been highly partisan.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says, “when the media repeats the word ‘scandals’ you are repeating partisan lines. They are issues that have occurred that have to be addressed. I don’t think they rise to the level of a scandal.” Others like Connolly are downplaying the recent slate of scandal. “I don’t think there is any long-term political impact on House Democrats for any of this stuff,” said Rep. Jim McGovern. “There clearly needs to be more accountability at the IRS and I think that will be taken care of. I think the administration has been handling it correctly.”

White House controversies of administrations past have usually had similar reaction, where approximately 25% are well informed with opinions divided along partisan lines. But while the President’s Party base has remained faithful throughout what USA Today said was “one of the most challenging weeks at the White House for the Obama administration,” independents are more skeptical.

The president’s approval rating has dropped among independents, from 37% in April to 28% now. A major reason for this is that, by a 44% to 28% margin, more independents say the administration was involved in the IRS decision than say it was not. This most recent NSA scandal may exacerbate the President’s problem, and could even force some civil libertarians in his own Party to turn on him.

Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Or.) have been warning for some time about the widespread nature of the Obama's administration domestic surveillance activities, sending a letter to Attorney General Holder and openly criticizing the Justice Department for misleading the American public on their use of the PATRIOT Act.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) agreed, adding: "This type of secret bulk data collection is an outrageous breach of Americans' privacy.”

"In digital era, privacy must be a priority," tweeted former vice president Al Gore. "Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"

Others, still, are claiming this isn’t even a scandal. MSNBC.com Executive Editor Richard Wolffe said, “I’m kind of scratching my head over the outrage on this one,” Wolffe began. “What was outrageous under the Bush administration, what really troubled people, was that there was warrantless. They were doing this without going to court. That was the key principle here.”

The top GOP and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, added that the monitoring of phone records has been going legally for years, and Congress has been briefed about it.

"It's called protecting America," Feinstein told reporters. "I understand privacy, Sen. Chambliss understands privacy, we want to protect people's private rights and that is why this is carefully done."

However, even Wolffe conceded that “Frankly, these courts actually never reject an application.”

The minimal effects the other scandals on polling data can be traced to the partisan divide between supporters and opponents of the White House. It would appear though that this controversy if different from all the rest that have plagued the Obama White House recently because outrage over the NSA's phone-record collection does not seem to be clearly partisan, with the government's surveillance program finding support in both parties. What will determine how this plays out in terms of Obama support is to what extent the public associates itself with civil libertarianism, and that remains to be seen. 


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Maxime Fischer-Zernin

Studying Political Science at Duke University (T. '15). His interests lie primarily in American national security and foreign policy. He is currently an Editor-at-Large for the Duke Political Review, and is a contributor for PolicyMic.com.

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