NSA Surveillance Scandal: Good For You, President Obama

Amid the deafening public outcry that erupted when news of the NSA’s intrusive intelligence gathering tactics leaked, I believed — and still do — that the controversial counterterrorism initiative is reasonable. A frequent critic of President Obama and his policies, I was actually encouraged, as I not too often am, by the president's pragmatism and resolve.

In 2005, then-Senator Obama was a vocal opponent of the PATRIOT Act’s wiretapping provision. So when the NSA scandal emerged, Republicans, always eager to stir the pot, were quick to call him a hypocrite, and many of his fellow Democrats expressed disappointment and abandonment.

I, however, believe that Obama’s approach to the issue is a remarkable example of leadership. A president is forced to see the complexities of an issue in a dimension far beyond that which the general public sees, and far more practically than a junior senator or a candidate must. There is a vast difference between politicking and governing and, when a president faces an issue as urgent and as fragile as national security, his ability to elevate himself above partisanship and politics is profoundly important.

President Obama has been largely criticized for his trademark quixotism — his presidency has often been directed by ideology and not practicality, and his rhetoric and domestic policies have undoubtedly been partisan. Yet President Obama’s ability to abandon his preconceived position and adapt to the wisdom and insight he has gained as commander-- in-chief is commendable, and reassuring. It is the apotheosis of the integrity and dignity that the American presidency is intended to represent.

And although the adversaries of his policy were far more vocal than were the supporters, President Obama demonstrated the unwavering conviction that a commander-in-chief ought to impose when dealing with matters of such gravity.

We as Americans are wired to be wary of government intrusion. Anytime the Bill of Rights is even remotely threatened, there is and ought to be public outcry. President Obama was correct, however, when he admitted: "I think it's important to recognize that you can't have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. We're going to have to make some choices as a society.”

It is never popular to be the person to spearhead difficult choices in a society. Moreover, President Obama and his fellow politicians too often elect to avoid spearheading these conversations. It is far easier and more politically keen to decry the government for its intrusiveness and incompetence than it is to govern prudently. But in an ever-evolving nation, in the context of a global dynamic plagued by terrorism and discord, we in the United States cannot take our liberties for granted. I would much rather the government have the right, so long as there are congressional checks and balances, to monitor questionable phone conversations than have my broader liberties, namely my safety, be threatened by a terrorist.

And despite the media and the more vocal public's outrage at President Obama for his decision to maintain his support for the NSA phone tapping program, 56% of Americans feel as though it is an acceptable means of national defense. Furthermore, 62% of Americans believe that within reason, the federal government's investigation of potential terrorist threats is worth compromised privacy. 

Preserving our nation's blessings as articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution is the primary responsibility of our president. Yes, we have had to and likely will continue to sacrifice some of these blessings in some aspects of our lives when antagonistic forces threaten our general principles and way of life. We do not need to abandon our values, but we need to be practical.