Musings —03.24.2014 07:00 PM—
As I type this, a big sign from the 2008 Obama presidential campaign hangs above my head.
Around my office, there are no less than a half-dozen Obama campaign posters on the walls. They are still there, and they are easy to spot.
The precise moment at which Barack Obama broke many progressive hearts, however, is just as easy to ascertain: it came in June of last year, when it was revealed that the U.S. government – aided and abetted by the “Five Eyes,” the governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – were literally spying on millions of their own citizens.
Obama’s response was swift and brutal. He stripped Edward Snowden, the source of the revelation, of his passport and charged him with espionage. He dismissed Snowden “a 29-year-old hacker.”
A 29-year-old hacker he may have been, but Snowden’s claims were not made without proof. He gave tens of thousands of backing documents to journalists.
The U.S. government and the Five Eyes listened on millions of phone conversations. They surveilled Internet records – everything from instant messages to emails. They mapped locations using cell phone data. They tapped into Google and Yahoo’s data centres to collect information on users.
And the targets of all of this surveillance activity? Not criminals or terrorists or hostile governments: just citizens. Millions of law-abiding citizens. You and me.
That all of this was illegal is beyond dispute. Our constitution, like the American variant, is full of many high-sounding words about “liberty” and “freedom,” and how you and I possess inalienable “rights” to ensure that we remain free and liberated.
But, as Edward Snowden’s appalling case suggests, we are neither. Tellingly, the post-Snowden response of Barack Obama – who came to power with a pledge to “strengthen whistleblower laws,” quote unquote – was not to rein in the shadowy agencies that had broken the law. His first response was to render the whisteblower a criminal, and destroy his life.
Oh, and he called those who toiled at the agency that coordinated the illegal spying “patriots.”
Conservatives, when they are in power, justify the curtailment of constitutional liberties with dark warnings about threats to our safety. That is, violating liberties in the name of protecting liberty.
Progressives like me are just as bad. When in power, we seek to abridge individual freedom by claiming to be acting in furtherance of the collective good.
None of it is new, either. More than 250 years ago, no less than Benjamin Franklin dryly observed that “the populace are never so ripe for mischief as in times of most danger.” And if there is no danger, make it up and say there is: after all, there are still plenty of teenage Gmail accounts that remain unseen by terrorist-seekers at the NSA.
So, will my former champion, Barack Obama, read this column, and its earnest plea for our constitutions to be worth the paper they are written on?
No need. The NSA likely tracked my keystrokes, intercepted my email to editors, and provided the president’s staff with a copy long before this morning’s paper hit the streets.
Welcome to the new era, where our “freedom” is gutted in the name of, you know, “freedom.”