There are many idealistic progressives who’ve remained opposed to the National Security Agency’s data mining programs regardless of who is in the White House. (We can’t surrender our freedom for safety, you know!) It’s only a shame that these same people have such little reverence for constitutional liberties in other areas of public life.
Really, it’s worse than that. Consider the central case of the left these days: “Unfettered” freedom is a tragedy — decadent, unfair and un-American. So if, as liberals like to argue, it’s a moral imperative for Americans to scale back personal liberty to build a cleaner, fairer and healthier world, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same to protect the nation from terrorists? Why one and not the other? If Washington can shield you from the vagaries of economic life, why can’t it do the same with terrorists?
Soon after news of the NSA’s data mining and PRISM programs hit the news, we learned that there are Democrats with an uncanny ability to be malleable, apathetic and partisan in the face of an intrusive state. In January 2006, when George W. Bush was president, Pew Research Center asked Democrats how they felt about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Thirty-seven percent labeled the spying “acceptable,” and 61 percent said they were unacceptable. The reverse is true today, as 64 percent of Democrats believe that Barack Obama’s surveillance programs are acceptable and 34 percent say they’re not.
We could see this as an instance of mass hypocrisy if we assumed that the response is driven by a concern for the snooping itself rather than the administration in charge of the snooping. But it’s likelier that folks on the left tend to be idealistic about presidents and less concerned about inquisitive NSA agents. (No, Republicans aren’t innocent by any stretch. But it’s fair to say that they’ve become more ideologically consistent in their skepticism of state power. This position is now popularly defined as fanaticism.)