By SHERMAN FREDERICK
The shocking NSA spying revelations have obliterated normal political lines. Left is on the right. Right is on the left. Dogs lay with cats.
This commentator for the first time lines up with Al Gore when he says: “It is not acceptable to have a secret interpretation of a law that goes far beyond any reasonable reading of either the law or the Constitution and then classify as top secret what the actual law is.”
And many to the left of me who usually gag uttering the name “Dick Cheney” can’t get enough of him when the former vice president defends the NSA spying program, the details of which are said to be so bloody effective they must remain secret to the American people for their own protection.
It’s bizarro world. So much so that President Obama actually sat down for an interview with Charlie Rose and tried unsuccessfully to distinguish his approach from the Bush-Cheney approach.
Purred Obama: “Some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock and barrel.’ My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances.”
Obama then compared his NSA spying with sobriety checkpoints. He did this to try to show how benign his spying is. But unwittingly he underscored the point that his spying programs have not been vetted.
Sobriety checkpoints were vigorously and openly debated in America. Eventually, the Supreme Court permitted the DUI stops on a 6-3 vote with the caveat that breath tests were Fourth Amendment seizures and constitutional safeguards had to be put into place, which different states have done in different ways.
That is precisely the kind of debate that Obama has not allowed to take place. In fact, if Edward Snowden hadn’t blown the whistle, we’d hardly even know what to debate.
Obama says, “Trust me, I’m the ‘transparent’ president.”
So Rose asks the president: “Even though we have all these systems of checks and balances … the public may not fully know. And that can make the public kind of nervous, right?”
To which Obama responds that uh … well … you know … he’ll have to ask the spy masters what more he can say.
That’s a scary admission. The president doesn’t know his own spy program well enough to know what exactly he can or cannot say?
So, do you trust your government to spy on your private life — from phone calls to Internet usage to health care records — and never abuse it?
I don’t. And I’ll tell you why.
Every leader starts with pure motives such as transparency, hope and change. But eventually, when the rights of the individual get in the way of government efficiency, freedom becomes expendable. The ends justify the means. Power corrupts.
And don’t think for a minute that this kind of behavior is limited to countries such as Cambodia or Syria. It can happen in America, too. Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order that imprisoned Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Harry Truman issued an order to seize and nationalize all steel mills in America, during a labor strike in 1952.
So, do you or do you not trust the backbone of Barack Obama over those of FDR and Truman?
It makes me shiver. I want iron-clad constitutional checks and real transparency. We must focus on this president’s deeds, not his words. His deeds make him about as transparent as Hoover Dam.
If Obama’s spying programs are worthy, they can stand up to the law and to public debate. We can’t debate them without knowing what they are. Obama’s creepy protestations of transparency to the contrary, I stand with Al Gore.
Sherman Frederick is former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and former editor of the Tribune-Herald.