Obama is Bad on Civil Liberties, But That Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone

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I turned on Fox for a few minutes and heard Megyn Kelly talking to someone who claimed that Democrats would all abandon President Obama en masse over the latest leaks about NSA spying. Maybe so. But I’m curious about something: Is anyone really surprised by the recent revelations of NSA surveillance programs? Actually, let me rephrase that. You might be surprised to learn about details of the programs themselves, but are you surprised to hear that Obama approved them?

I can’t figure out why anyone would be. Obama voted for the 2008 FISA amendments, a position that outraged liberals at the time. He continued the Bush-era surveillance of communications networks. He ramped up the war in Afghanistan. He vastly increased drone use overseas. He’s declared a war on leakers. He participated in the assault on Libya. He’s approved the assassination of American citizens abroad. His DOJ has aggressively made use of the state secrets privilege. He’s fought relentlessly to block lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

Basically, Obama’s record on national security and civil liberties issues has been crystal clear for a long time: He falls squarely into the mainstream of the elite, bipartisan, Beltway consensus on this stuff. He always has, just like every president before him. This isn’t the fourth term of the George Bush presidency, as so many people like to put it, but more like the 16th term of the Eisenhower presidency.

Will the public finally rebel after learning about the latest way their government is keeping tabs on them? I doubt it. As near as I can tell, most of the public is willing to sell their innermost secrets for a free iTunes coupon. Until we figure out a way to change that, none of this stuff is going to stop.

UPDATE: At the same time, maybe we should still be surprised to hear Obama say something like this:

But I know that the people who are involved in these programs… They’re professionals. In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.

Sure. And it’s possible, even likely, that these professionals aren’t abusing the data they’ve collected. Not yet, anyway. But does Obama really think that a government that collects this kind of stuff won’t abuse it eventually? That’s vanishingly unlikely.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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