The fallout from whistleblower Edward Snowden’s recent revelation of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) data collection practices has been interesting to watch in Washington and in media. But the most important reactions are coming from the American public.
A survey released by the Pew Research Center this week reveals that a majority of Americans – 56% – say the NSA’s program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, while a 41% minority disagrees.
According to Pew, 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.
The best part though is the switch of both parties on this topic, indicating opinion on this is more about politics than principle.
When this question was asked in 2006 under the Bush administration, Democrats said it was unacceptable for the NSA to scrutinize phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists by a 61%-36% margin. Today, under the Obama administration, Democrats now view the NSA’s phone surveillance as acceptable by a similar margin: 64% to 34%.
Similarly, a 52% majority of Republicans agree with Democrats today that it is acceptable for the NSA to track phone call records and read emails of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism. But in 2006, a larger majority of Republicans – 75% – said it was acceptable.
While most Republicans have been a little more consistent on this than most Democrats, the message for many is clear: “It’s acceptable – as long as our guys are doing it.”
I’ve been noticing this a lot throughout Obama’s presidential term. Criticisms that staunch liberals were making against Bush with passionate fervor for actions taken under his administration have now fallen silent when the same actions have been taken under this administration.
Remember when Obama called Bush “unpatriotic” for adding $4 trillion in debt on the backs of our children with a “credit card from China?”
He’s now added more than $6 trillion in debt in half the time. But it’s OK now because there’s a (D) next to the president’s name.
Or how about when he criticized the Bush administration for “hiding behind executive privilege” during Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s dismissal of seven U.S. attorneys?
Obama would then go on to exercise that same executive privilege to protect his attorney general, Eric Holder, from having to hand over internal Justice Department documents on the botched firearms sting operation that allowed weapons to reach Mexican drug cartels and stopping the investigation into Fast and Furious dead in its tracks.
So then this should come as no surprise today:
But it’s not just politicians who are guilty of mounting hypocrisies; their supporters share the blame too. I see it in media all the time.
Über-liberal Seth MacFarlane loved to constantly rip on the Bush administration. In the 2006 Family Guy episode “Whistle While Your Wife Works,” Stewie asks Brian’s girlfriend, “So Jillian, what are your views regarding homeland security? Do you think we should support what the president is doing?” Jillian responds, “Well, I just think that sometimes the government has things they can’t tell us and, truthishly, we should just accept that.”
Hilarious when Bush was president, right? I don’t see those jokes on Family Guy anymore post-2008. Yet despite the liberal media’s best efforts, it hasn’t prevented Obama’s popularity from falling. According to Gallup, his approval (47%) is now even below that of Bush’s today (49%).
Clearly, politics play a role not just in Washington, but in voters’ sentiments as well. The same actions and policies can be viewed very differently from the public depending on which party is occupying the White House.
But for those of us concerned with the federal government infringing on our civil liberties, you should ask your peers why they always look to more government every time something tragic happens. Every time a school shooting is covered in the media, there are plenty of voices crying for government to “do something” about guns. After 9/11, there were plenty of voices crying for government to “do something” about the intelligence failures that failed to prevent almost 3,000 people from dying. And while the security measures implemented since then don’t prevent every terrorist attack from happening again (as the Tsarnaev brothers clearly demonstrated), according to Pew, most Americans are still willing to sacrifice some liberties so that government can “do something” to (at least what they think will) save lives.
And as long as most Americans are willing to give Washington more federal power, there will be plenty of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington ready to embrace that gift with open arms.