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Liberal Silence on Wiretapping is Deafening


Democrats spent the majority of Bush II up on a soap box complaining about things like the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, water boarding and Blackwater. Private armies, the rise of the police state and bringing the likes of W. and Cheney up on war crimes were standard liberal rhetoric. But now that they've got the White House and half of Congress, the party of the people are much less suspicious of executive power. A recent house vote on reining in the NSA is only the latest example.

Last week – and among surprisingly little media attention – the House voted 217 to 205 against a bill that would restrict how the National Security Agency collects Americans’ telephone records. 83 Democrats voted against the bill. The result was a surprising bit of two-way bipartisanship (the yeas consisted of 111 D's and 94 R's, with the nays coming from 134 R's and the 84 D's).

Now, before 2010 you would have never seen 94 Republican's voting for such a measure. But the libertarian influence that has arisen within the party since the 2010 mid-terms is undeniable. The result is a coalition of libertarians and progressives who are very skeptical of government secrecy and big-brother domestic spying tactics, facing off against an alliance of neocons and big government Dems who think either that such powers are inherently necessary (the former) or is at least okay as long as their party controls such power (the latter).

It's this last group that I think has the most to answer for. Blind faith and dogmatic allegiance is dangerous no matter what side of the political spectrum it originates. At least the neocons are unwavering in their support of broadscale domestic policing powers at the expense of our civil rights. But Democrats who feign outrage at one regime only to support their own side when it continues what is in many ways an extension of their predecessor's policies, is a particularly dangerous brand of hypocrisy.

From drone policy and the kill list, to Gitmo and NSA wiretapping, there is a solid bloc of opposition across the ideological spectrum. Many Americans – even if they can't agree on much else – are very unhappy with the notion of secret laws, secret interpretations of those laws, secret prisons, secret kill lists and secret phone record collection. It's heartening to know that close to half of the House is in step with that notion, but equally frustrating that the thin majority contains so many hypocrites who would doubtlessly be up in arms, were the policies not coming from their own dugout.

On Friday, the President made comments about the need to “strike the right balance for protecting our security and protecting our freedoms.” He also acknowledged that as a Senator, he was a detractor of all the policy. Now, this is all well and good, but the President has demonstrated a persuasive ability to pacify constituents with platitudes, and his speech Friday was reminiscent of his response to the drone policy and Senator Rand Paul's epic filibuster. 

It's a practiced skill that can be very disarming. President Obama acknowledges the validity of the concerns (where most politicians seek to invalidate or discredit any anxiety which runs counter to their policies). He even notes the hypocrisy in his presidential positions when compared to the ones he professed to have while serving in Congress. Then, he even tries to comfort the skeptical by saying that he's in their fight and working toward the same goal. 

It's been six years since the President was first out stumping for the West Wing, but he's still talking as if he's America's ally in sticking it to the man. It's about time that members of his party reminded him that he is the man and that they'd like him to start acting like the one they voted for – the constitutional law professor who professed a strong disdain for the burgeoning police state and vowed to fight rather than enable it. 

There may be a lot of problems for which Congressional gridlock has genuinely tied President Obama's hands, but rolling back this aggressive assault on our civil rights is not one of them. For this issue, he has a bipartisan coalition of just about 50 percent of Washington. There is no reason he can't nudge this across the finish line if in fact he is in our corner on the issue. 

Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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