Ted Cruz: Let's not rush to judgment on NSA surveillance

Via the Examiner, a short but noteworthy clip insofar as it exposes a potential fault line between Cruz and Rand Paul. McCain lumps them together as “wacko birds” but I’m not so sure that’s true of Cruz on national-security issues. His alliance with Paul interests me because it strikes me as a personification of the uneasy libertarian/tea-party alliance. The groups overlap heavily on spending issues, and both are deeply suspicious of Obama’s expansion of government. The master stroke of Paul’s drone filibuster was that he found a sweet spot for both, making the philosophical case for due process while humiliating O for having turned into such a hypocrite about it. Even so, no matter how much Paul sometimes likes to pretend that the tea party is synonymous with libertarianism (for his own strategic reasons), various polls show that it just isn’t so. Tea partiers are more socially conservative than doctrinaire libertarians, they’re more likely to support entitlements, and they’re more traditionally Republican on defense/security issues. That’s not to say that they’re not becoming more libertarian — polls lately show Republicans are more skeptical about NSA surveillance than Democrats are, although that’s probably for partisan reasons — but they’re not all Ron Paul fans either. That’s why Rand is usually quick to claim the tea-party label. The more he gets TPers thinking of themselves as allied with him, then theoretically the more receptive they’ll be to his libertarian ideals.

McCain doesn’t seem to understand the difference between them but comparing Paul’s reaction to the NSA revelations to Cruz’s is instructive. Paul’s first instinct was to organize a class-action lawsuit and accuse the NSA of an “extraordinary invasion of [Americans’] privacy.” Cruz, by contrast, says the revelations are “cause for concern” but urges Fox viewers to reserve judgment until we know more about the programs. And from the looks of it here, his chief objection seems to be that this particular administration can’t be trusted with NSA’s surveillance tools in light of the IRS scandal, not necessarily that any administration can’t be trusted with it. He may very well end up joining Paul’s lawsuit, but I suspect that’ll be aimed at impressing libertarians whose votes he’ll need if he ends up running for president someday just as Rand often tempers his own libertarianism in order to impress more mainstream tea-party conservatives. Cruz’s ally, Sarah Palin (who returned to Fox this morning, although she doesn’t speak in this clip) seems to be taking a position similar to his lately. From her speech at the Faith and Freedom Conference on Saturday:

“The scandals infecting this city, they are a symptom of a bigger disease, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat sitting atop a bloated boot on your neck, out of control government, everybody gets infected, no party is immune,” Palin said. “That’s why, I tell you, I’m listening to those independents, those libertarians, who are saying, it is both sides of the aisle, the leadership, the good ol’ boys in the party on both sides of the aisle, they perpetuate the problem.”…

Palin also took on the “pandering, rewarding the rule breakers, still-no-border security, special interest written amnesty bill,” especially ribbing Jeb Bush for his fertility comment yesterday. “I think it’s kind of touchy territory to want to debate this over one race’s fertility over another, and I say that as someone who’s kinda fertile herself.”

Obama didn’t evade Palin’s lashing, either. “Where is our commander in chief?” Palin asked. “We’re talking now more new interventions? I say, until we know what we’re doing, until we have a commander in chief who knows what he’s doing—well, chief, in these radical Islamic countries, aren’t even respecting basic human rights, when both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line ‘Allah ak-bar’—I say, let Allah sort it out.”

I suspect Cruz would agree with every word, and that her former running mate would disagree with most or all of it. (Palin advocated “Cruz control” for Washington in the speech, in fact.) She doesn’t want any more interventions under a strategist as poor as Obama — but she’s not against intervention in principle. She wants America to listen more to the libertarians, but when it comes to the lousy Gang of Eight bill, she rightly opposes it for its weak border security — even though libertarians are famously comfortable with weak borders. None of this is contradictory; most tea partiers would, I take it, agree that America needs more libertarianism while maybe not quite so much as Ron Paul supporters would prefer. The point is, though, there are real differences between Cruz and Rand Paul and I think we’re getting a hint of one in the clip. And the longer the national debate stays stuck on liberty-versus-security issues, the more obvious I think those differences will be.