Yet another ‘Breaking News!’ alert sounded on one of the several networks that resorts to them too frequently, and this time the breaking news was that ‘the public is losing trust in the Obama administration.’ Really? Really?
That could raise the debatable point about how much currency the administration still held in the public trust at any point you want to name post-election when apparently enough citizens trusted this president with the country to give his administration control of it for another four years. But that’s another discussion and one seriously outdated at the moment. We’ve moved into new territory in recent months, unchartered since the Revolution, as Senator Rand Paul frequently reminds reporters when he recalls that ‘soldiers went house to house for search and seizure’ but this government is scooping up private information about citizens’ lives without their awareness and therefore without their consent.
So about that ‘public trust’ business that broke into the news cycle, different news outlets and polling companies are continually taking the pulse of the public on everything that happens in American public life, and the results seemed to have reached a tipping point.
‘Most Americans disapprove of NSA phone-record collecting‘ reflected this set of polls. Here’s the CBS one:
Seventy-five percent of Americans approve of federal agencies collecting the phone records of people the government suspects of terrorist activity, but a 58 percent majority disapproves of this type of data collection in the case of ordinary Americans.
Majorities of Republicans and independents oppose the government collecting phone records of ordinary Americans; Democrats are divided.
A day later, polls changed again. If you’re wonkish, read the whole thing. It’s interesting to see how different polls ask questions.
Right — it doesn’t note the mind-boggling scope of the program or emphasize that millions of perfectly innocent Americans are having their data harvested. This question’s just vague enough, in fact, that some people might think it refers to collecting data specifically on terrorist suspects rather than the public at large. That’s why it shows mild approval of the program. Pollsters have to be more careful when asking about this. At a minimum, every question about it should note that the program’s (1) known to Congress and overseen by FISA judges yet also (2) incredibly vast and sophisticated, collecting digital fingerprints from virtually the entire population.
Get that? The entire population. And Obama first told Americans not to worry, it’s foreigners the program is after.
I got all exercised over the government trying to control and regulate property rights on the internet through SOPA and PIPA. How silly, given the government’s control over that as a minimum.
As for Snowden himself, the picture’s mixed. Reuters finds 31 percent who say he’s a “patriot” and 23 percent who say he’s a “traitor,” with 46 percent following the Rand Paul path of prudence and reserving judgment for the time being. Thirty-five percent say he shouldn’t face charges while 25 percent say he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Gallup has 44 percent saying Snowden did the right thing versus 42 percent who said he did wrong, with ye olde familiar partisan split: The GOP breaks 49/38 in favor of “right,” Democrats break 39/49 in favor of “wrong.” Time magazine’s numbers in favor of Snowden are more robust, but also more complicated: 54 percent say he did a “good thing,” but 53 percent want him prosecuted for leaking anyway.
Sufficiently confused? Yes. This doesn’t follow any lines, any prototype, people aren’t yet sure. But they – we – are certainly uneasy. We haven’t had a healthy trust of government for a long time. Less so now.
In the little that President Obama has said publicly about his administration’s recently exposed domestic surveillance programs he has returned to the overall motif of his presidency: warning against excessive distrust of the federal government.
Of course. Now he’s the government and controls most of it.
While hawks wait anxiously to see if Obama can summon the political courage to defend the programs he has expanded despite his onetime opposition, the president has so far used the occasion to preach against what he seems to believe is a virus of anti-government sentiment in the nation.
It’s not a virus. It’s a healthy immune system.
The end of human confidence in a zone of individual privacy from the government, plus the very real presence of a system that can harm, harass or invade the everyday liberties of Americans. This is a recipe for democratic disaster.
If—again, if—what Snowden says is substantially true, the surveillance state will in time encourage an air of subtle oppression, and encourage too a sense of paranoia that may in time—not next week, but in time, as the years unfold—loosen and disrupt the ties the people of America feel to our country. “They spy on you here and will abuse the information they get from spying on you here. I don’t like ‘here.'”
Trust in government, historically, ebbs and flows, and currently, because of the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, Benghazi, etc.—and the growing evidence the executive agencies have been reduced to mere political tools—is at an ebb that may not be fully reversible anytime soon. It is a great irony, and history will marvel at it, that the president most committed to expanding the centrality, power, prerogatives and controls of the federal government is also the president who, through lack of care, arrogance, and an absence of any sense of prudential political boundaries, has done the most in our time to damage trust in government.
And don’t forget his promise of the most transparent government Americans have known, which Americans eagerly sought. We’re getting it now. Through serial leaks.