Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians unite! If ever there was a time for us to see past our differences in the name of a common cause, that time is now.
As Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced last night, a movement is afoot for a class action lawsuit against the federal government over the National Security Agency's decision to spy on millions of American citizens. The petition on his website has already received thousands of signatures (including mine), with Paul rightly pointing out that "every person in America who has a cell phone would be eligible for this suit." If any fault can be found with this petition drive, it is the fact that it immediately solicits donations from the plaintiffs for Rand Paul's personal Political Action Committee, Rand 2016.
This is unfortunate because, although Paul himself is a heavy libertarian conservative, the issue he is championing could — and, more importantly, should — rally Americans of all philosophical persuasions.
While America's major ideological groups starkly disagree with each other over how to interpret the Constitution on issues ranging from economic policy to gun control, it is hard to imagine a more cut-and-dried infringement of our civil liberties than the NSA's warrantless collection of cell phone, e-mail, and other electronic information from millions of citizens. As the Fourth Amendment clearly states:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
If there is any doubt that the potential for trans-ideological solidarity exists here, one need look no further than the most recent headlines. Former Virginia attorney general and erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative, has already agreed to be the leading attorney in Paul's proposed lawsuit. Meanwhile, left-wing Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vermont) remains one of the Senate's most outspoken opponents of the NSA's excesses, including his most recent demand that the agency discuss whether it has been spying on Congress itself. Even that bastion of progressivism itself, the New York Times, recently ran an op-ed attributed to its entire editorial board hailing Edward Snowden as a "whistle-blower" for leaking information on the NSA's excesses and calling on President Obama to grant him amnesty.
This isn't to say that there will be complete unity on this issue. While one conservative federal judge ruled the NSA program "almost Orwellian" and probably unconstitutional, some of Obama's staunchest legislative defenders on this issue include Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham. Likewise, although the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union has led the charge against the NSA's abuses, it was a center-left New York federal judge, William H. Pauley III, who upheld the programs' constitutionality.
It is precisely because these differences cross ideological bounds that we need to set aside what divides us and focus on what can bring us together. The stakes reach far beyond even the parameters of our immediate constitutional rights. As Justice Louis Brandeis, a progressive paladin, explained in words with which all Americans should agree:
"Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution."