A noteworthy performance by Bambi this morning in fielding the inevitable question about NSA/PRISM, for three reasons. One: As you’ll see in the second clip below, right before he refers to massive, unprecedented data-mining as a “modest encroachment” on privacy, he more or less admits that Bush was right about the practice and he was wrong. He came in as a skeptic, he says, and of course his team added lots of Hopenchange oversight magic to the legal framework they were given, but when push comes to shove, the hawks were right. Data-mining does help prevent terror attacks. That’s an … interesting twist on his standard M.O. From “blame Bush” to “credit Bush”?
Two: The big takeaway was him saying “nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” which is both misleading and impressive as a straw man even by O’s usual standards. For one thing, if WaPo’s report yesterday is accurate, they can read your e-mails with PRISM. The one line from that story that inspired more shivers than any other was, “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.” Reassuring the public that their phones aren’t bugged when their e-mails can be watched in progress is highly nuanced indeed. Beyond that, no serious critic of data-mining is claiming that it amounts to wiretapping. The criticism is that (a) the bits of data collected from phone records can reveal more than the average person might think, and (b) the slippery slope is real when it comes to surveillance. PRISM is proof enough of that. No one’s listening to your phone calls yet, but give the public a few years to get used to this latest intrusion. Maybe they’ll be more open to that possibility down the road, especially as terrorists get more ambitious.
Three: Contrary to expectations, he didn’t resort to his usual lame “let’s have a debate about it” responsibility dodge. The responsibility dodge this time was different, and stronger. Namely, Congress and the courts know all about this and support it, so why are you blaming him? The public wants oversight of the executive on national security — witness the drone debate — and that’s what it’s getting on data-mining. Either you trust the three branches of your government to behave responsibly or you don’t, in which case go right ahead and tear down this security regime — if you can find candidates willing to run against it. Can you? And can those candidates persist when, not if, there’s another terror attack? All he’s doing here, really, is making Dana Perino’s point against Bob Beckel in a slightly different way. Most counterterrorism will happen secretly; if you’re uncomfortable with the feds wielding certain secret powers, okay, but accept weaker counterterrorism as the price of that. The big problem with that argument, of course, is that we don’t know for a fact that less intrusive measures would necessarily mean less effective security. If you’re willing to take O’s word for it, presumably you’re also willing to believe that there’s no way to foil attacks on planes without a TSA apparatchik grabbing your crotch before you board. The hallmark of big government is inefficiency; surely, there’s a better way to go about this than bugging the entire Internet. But if there is, you’ll likely never know it.
Two clips here via the Examiner and CBS, respectively.