Saturday, August 17, 2013

On looking over one's shoulder

Peggy Noonan is always worth reading, but never more than today, when she and Nat Hentoff take on "the surveillance state". She compares today to the 1920s and to the McCarthy era, but I remember two other times when the government told us what to think, or tried to: the Second World War with its relentless propanda and the Nixon presidency with its petty burglaries.

An entrenched surveillance state will change and distort the balance that allows free government to function successfully. Broad and intrusive surveillance will, definitively, put government in charge. But a republic only works, Mr. Hentoff notes, if public officials know that they—and the government itself—answer to the citizens. It doesn't work, and is distorted, if the citizens must answer to the government. And that will happen more and more if the government knows—and you know—that the government has something, or some things, on you.
This is where we have arrived with the Obama administration, which came into office vowing to be the most "transparent" and inclusive ever, then proceeded to use the presidential pulpit to demonize everyone and everything that seemed to stand in its way: Wall Street, bankers, the Republican opposition, "the one percent," big business, small business--even the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Then sent the Internal Revenue Service to hamstring conservative groups in the 2012 election. With that record, it's hard to trust Mr. Obama and Susan Rice with the National Security Administration.

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