The Obama Watch

The Casual Tyrant

When caught, Obama just shrugs and suggests a “debate.”

By 6.12.13

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It takes a special brand of chutzpah to use one’s own misdeeds as an occasion for “debate” or “updating” the law. Trust us to improve and reform the laws we are violating: that has been the essential message of the Obama administration over the last few weeks as scandal has engulfed it.

Eric Holder experimented with that tactic after he got nabbed for hacking into the emails of journalist James Rosen on a subpoena that defined him as a criminal spy. Instead of quitting, Holder dug in, casting the scandal as a learning experience for the nation, as if he had nothing to do with it. Now Obama is trying out that tactic to mollify Americans over the exposed NSA program. He is open to a “healthy” debate about it. Holder and Obama are like drunk drivers who cause a pile-up and then stroll back innocently to see if they can “help.”

At the same time, Obama wants Americans to rest easy knowing that the contents of their calls haven’t been monitored. Yes, we are spying on you, he in effect said last week, but not as extensively as these irresponsible media reports would suggest. Yes, we are tracing your calls, but “nobody is listening” to them. But, hey, if you still feel uncomfortable, we can always have a “debate” about it. What an easygoing and thoughtful tyrant.

This administration likes to shift attention from a present abuse of freedom by pointing to a greater abuse of freedom it hasn’t committed yet. Americans are supposed to be grateful that Obama’s NSA is only tracing their calls, not listening to them. Besides, said Obama, government is sure to handle this information with care.

This line of obfuscation is reminiscent of Kathleen Sebelius defending the constitutionality of the HHS mandate on the grounds that, yes, we are forcing most religious employers to pay for contraceptives but we are not forcibly injecting anybody with them. What government hasn’t done to you yet becomes the new standard of freedom. And then when the next abuse happens the government pushes the standard back a little more. In a few years, the line will move to: yes, we are listening to your calls, but we are not recording them; yes, we are forcing you to pay for abortion but we are not requiring you undergo one.

On this complacent view of freedom, which the ruling culture works hard to drill into the people, complaints about everything from the HHS mandate to the IRS scandal to government sweeps of “metadata” can be dismissed as paranoid alarmism or carping about minor, correctible problems. Nothing to fear; nothing that a little “debate” and negotiation can’t clear up.

And this propaganda often prevails. Polls suggest that a fair number of Americans don’t seem to care that much about the NSA scandal. They are joining Obama in his shrug. To paraphrase Orwell, everything is all right, the struggle is finished, they love Big Brother.

In a mindless, “What difference does it make?” culture, it is considered progress when everyone is mistreated by government equally. Obama’s America prefers metadata to profiling, prefers that Big Brother frisk everyone, from infants to grandmothers, rather than that the sensibilities of young males from Islamic countries be violated.

So the “debate” over which Obama has so generously volunteered to preside may not change anything. Like Holder, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper probably won’t pay any price for lying to Congress. Clapper hews to Bill Clinton’s understanding of perjury: that words can be privately defined. Do you collect data on the American people? Senator Ron Wyden asked him in a hearing not very long before the scandal broke. Rubbing his head oddly, Clapper said no. But that wasn’t perjury, he now claims, since “when someone says ‘collection’ to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him.”

The Obama administration grants itself many such mulligans. One would think it might occur to the American people at some point that they can violate the law with the same casualness the Obama administration does. If the highest law contained in the Constitution isn’t binding, why are lesser laws binding? Acts of civil disobedience are bound to multiply in a country where the first acts of treachery are committed by government.

Photo: White House

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.