Two sides of the surveillance-state coin: While Rand Paul was in Philly yesterday promising to filibuster any attempt to extend the Patriot Act, Christie was in New Hampshire demanding a clean extension, including an extension of the momentarily illegal Section 215 that House Republicans and Democrats have joined together in trying to limit. Paul and Christie have tangled before over civil liberties and national security, although never face to face. Two summers ago, Christie flashed his hawkishness by calling libertarianism a “very dangerous idea” in a post-9/11 world. Paul replied a few days later that Christie’s flippancy about the Bill of Rights was more dangerous than anything in libertarianism. Now here’s Christie rejoining that battle with Paul the obvious if unnamed target of a broadside I don’t think I’ve ever heard before in GOP natsec rhetoric.
The closest analog I can think of was someone — Gingrich, I believe — warning during the last campaign that strong counterterror protocols are actually the best guarantor of civil liberties insofar as they’re our best chance of preventing another mega-attack on America. If and when that attack comes, it was argued, Americans will gladly cede more of what’s left of their rights in the name of even better terror prevention. To preserve the rights we have now, we should let the feds use the tools they already have to make sure that attack never happens. (Actually, now that I do a little googling, I see that Newt already had his eye on limiting the First Amendment when it came to advocacy of terrorism.) Christie’s approach is similar. His attitude is that the fear people felt after 9/11 led to them to feel less free in important ways, a threat that’s not remotely the same as having the government forcibly limit your rights but which has some resonance thanks to media self-censorship over cartoons of Mohammed. Security to Christie is a handmaiden to freedom, which is … interesting, in that it presents more government power as the true libertarian position. The point of the Constitution, supposedly, is to make sure the government can protect citizens, not to protect citizens from the government, all building up to his memorably creepy final line. When and whether we should draw a line on limiting civil liberties even if it means accepting a greater risk of people ending up in coffins, I have no idea. In theory there is no limiting principle. Better to be alive and enjoy whatever rights you have left than risk death by trying to tie the government’s hands, right?
I argued this morning that his new immigration policy was crafted to pander to center-right voters, a way for him to keep pace with Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. I’m not sure who this “total information awareness beats death, right?” policy was crafted to pander to. It’s true that GOP voters have trended hawkish in the last few years, but an ACLU poll this week (conducted by a bipartisan pair of polling firms) found 58 percent of Republicans think the Patriot Act should be modified to limit government surveillance of Americans versus 36 percent who think it shouldn’t. As noted above, House Republicans are onboard with limiting the Act as part of an extension. The GOP field won’t want for strong hawks either, thanks to Rubio and Lindsey Graham. I’m not sure how rhetoric like this helps Christie. Either he’s speaking from the heart as a NY/NJ prosecutor appointed by George W. Bush on 9/10/01 (a fact he likes to remind people of) or he’s deliberately trying to bait Paul into an angry reply, thinking that a new war of words with Rand in the media will raise his profile and get undecideds to stop thinking of him as an also-ran. You tell me.
Exit question: Is Christie the kookiest, most unhinged hawk in the field? Nah, of course not. Click the image to watch.