Twelve years after the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001, we are still dealing
with the fallout.
Twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden is now the central figure in what
has become a renewed debate over security versus civil liberties in the
age of terror. Snowden has owned up to being the person who leaked
details about secret National Security Agency surveillance programs that
sifted through endless phone records and Internet communications,
including those of ordinary Americans. The stories appeared in the
British newspaper, The Guardian, and in the Washington Post.
Snowden will be a hero to some and a traitor to others. Civil liberties
groups were outraged with the disclosures about the secret NSA
surveillance programs because they seem to cast, in their view, such a
wide net without enough safeguards to protect the public at large. But
security-first types will no doubt focus on Snowden now as the real
threat to democracy and will demand prosecution and punishment.
Political Battle Lines Forming
Political battle lines are already forming over the NSA surveillance
revelations, with a familiar libertarian twist that brings together some
liberal Democrats and a handful of conservative Republicans. Those who
think the government has too much power in this area include some
familiar libertarian voices like Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders and
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul is eyeing a 2016
presidential run and has become the leading proponent of trying to
expand Republican supporters by trying to appeal to conservatives with a
libertarian bent, especially young people. Paul made a name for himself
earlier this year with a Senate filibuster in opposition to the Obama
administrationís drone program. Now, heís already making the cable news
show rounds on the NSA controversy.
But donít forget that congressional majorities have backed the NSA
surveillance programs as a necessary tool in the war on terrorism, and I
noted a bipartisan hesitation to condemn the surveillance efforts in the
wake of the revelations. I think the recent bombings at the Boston
Marathon served to remind the public that the terrorist threat persists,
and Iím still trying to get a handle on where the public comes down on
the whole question of security versus privacy.
Civil liberties advocates had their moment last week to complain about
the NSA disclosures, but I still think a sizeable ďsilent majorityĒ of
Americans is probably willing to accept some of the intrusions as a
necessary price to pay to keep the country safe.
Obama Remains in the Hot Seat
The NSA story helped to keep the Obama administration on the defensive,
coming as it did on the heels of the story about abuses by the IRS tax
agency, lingering questions about the attack on U.S. diplomats in
Benghazi, Libya last September and the controversy about the government
secretly accessing phone records of the Associated Press.
Some of the presidentís core supporters are no doubt disappointed that
Mr. Obamaís promises on civil liberties as a presidential candidate in
2008 donít quite square with his record as president. And some are
clearly upset that the Obama playbook on national security and dealing
with terrorists has closely followed the one drawn up by his
presidential predecessor, George W. Bush.
But from the beginning of Mr. Obamaís campaign for the White House, it
was clear that he was not going to allow himself to be portrayed as weak
on national security and foreign policy. The highlight was taking credit
for the raid that killed Osama bin laden in 2011, which was prominently
featured in the presidentís successful re-election campaign the
Now the president says he welcomes a more debate on the question of
security and civil liberties. Good thing because I think heís going to
Republican Rumblings for 2016
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was one of the headliners at a recent
Republican gathering hosted by former Massachusetts governor and
presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Christie was joined at the event by
Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, Romneyís vice presidential running
mate last year, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, the darling of
three men are potential presidential contenders in 2016, but of the
three it seems to me that Christie is far and away the Republican most
likely to appeal to non-Republicans in a presidential contest.
Christieís decision to schedule a special election later this year to
fill out the remaining term of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, a
Democrat, clearly disappointed conservatives who were looking for the
bolder move of appointing a Republican for the remaining time, giving
that person a leg up in any eventual election.
But it looks like the latest evidence that Christie is positioning
himself as someone who could appeal to moderates from both parties, a
centrist candidate who would risk the ire of the Republican right wing
to make him more viable with the general election voter.
Of course the problem here is leaning too far to the middle would make
Christie a target in the Republican primaries in 2016. Perhaps his best
hope is splitting the conservative vote among several contenders and
emerging as the favorite of mainstream Republican voters. Letís see, the
last two to do that were John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.