Privacy concerns split the conservative and libertarian wings of the Republican Party this week as GOP political frontrunners New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul butted heads over the government’s surveillance programs.
Christie criticized a “strain of libertarianism” coursing through both parties as a “very dangerous thought” more than a decade after the nation’s deadliest terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans…
“You can name any number of people and he’s one of them,” Christie said. “These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”
Mr. Paul fired back Friday morning on his official Senate Twitter feed, writing that the governor “worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.”
A top aide to Mr. Paul immediately fired back, telling The Washington Times the senator’s opposition to government drone policies and surveillance programs are designed to “protect the freedoms that make America exceptional.”
“If Gov. Christie believe the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans are ‘esoteric,’ he either needs a new dictionary or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent times,” Paul senior advisor Doug Stafford said.
After three years of watching the GOP’s non-interventionist wing gather strength, there are mounting signs that a more combative set of national security conservatives have reached their breaking point. Now, prominent conservative leaders in what used to be considered the Bush-Cheney mold are increasingly taking the offensive against their intra-party rivals…
Republican hawks say these developments amount to something less than a coordinated counteroffensive. But no one disputes that they’re nearing a critical mass of impatience with what some call “Rand-ism” – resistance to foreign entanglements and deep, confrontational skepticism about the expansion of the federal defense apparatus, particularly in the areas of surveillance and drone warfare…
“There was a lot of talk, particularly during the Republican primary last year, of, ‘Well, we don’t want to alienate these voters,” Santorum said, recalling that he’d been criticized as “too bellicose” and “too warlike. “I can tell you, the Paulistas who were active on the state level in 2012 were not interested in the Republican Party as it now exists. They are interested in a very different kind of model.”…
“We are winning. They are lashing out,” one Paul adviser said in an email, of the national security debate.
The problem is simple: too many conflate the growth of the federal government and the unbridled economic interference embraced by Obama and his followers with what they see as a Soviet style security state they believe is growing up in the bounds of Metropolitan Washington. Mind you, Obama isn’t helping, attacking his opponents via the IRS and calling it a “phony” scandal. But that security state doesn’t exist.
Why is it that so many Republicans (and quite a few Democrats, too) believe the state is out to get them? The answer, for the most part, is that this administration and its predecessors in the Bush administration did a terrible job briefing Congress, looping Congress in, and helping Congress understand what exactly the federal government is up to. No surprise that those suspicious of the government for whatever reason might wonder if no one is bothering to actually read them in. That’s the administration’s fault, and it must be rectified.
Then there’s Rand Paul, his father, and their acolytes. These are the fringes. That they have managed to latch onto the mainstream is an indictment both of the administration and those of us who believe in internationalism and understand what is necessary to fight terrorism.
Some say Paul’s popularity with Tea Party grassroots—he currently leads the field of potential 2016 Republican candidates—makes fellow Republicans wary about speaking out.
“There’s a fear of confronting Paul because they suspect that he’s speaking for the public,” said Danielle Pletka, vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “But what they failed to understand is that the country needs information and leadership. Most Americans, I suspect, aren’t really isolationists.”
First of all, Christie is by nature and training a lawman. Second, he is not just a federal prosecutor but one who has been immersed in the Global War on Terrorism by virtue of sitting in New Jersey, which was not only home of several hundred 9/11 victims but also the temporary home of several of the 9/11 attackers and the origin of one of the hijacked planes. In this regard, it’s hard to overstate the similarity with Rudy Giuliani, who like Christie combines a tough-on-terror stance with a cosmopolitan insistence that this need not be construed as bias against the many Muslims in greater New York – recall Christie’s virtuosic rant against conservatives who objected to his nomination of a Muslim lawyer for a Superior Court judgeship.
Finally, follow the money. Christie’s big backers – the millionaires and billionaires who were urging him to run in 2012 – are from the school of conservatives who are liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage but take a hard-line orthodoxy on tax-cutting and favor an aggressive security posture at home and abroad. The classic example of this type is Paul Singer, the hedge fund titan who helped lead the push for Christie in 2012 and who, at a 2010 fundraiser, railed on and on about “the Obama administration’s inadequate support for Israel.”
The resurgence of libertarianism in the GOP means different things to these donors—some of them are happy to see marijuana legalizers get their footing. By and large they want the party to get behind some form of immigration reform (Bob Perry, the old Swift Boat vets donor, was a believer). Rand Paul was aware of that when he rebranded himself as a possible reformer, saying enough to move the bill along with conservatives without actually endorsing their plan.
Alas, the pure libertarians aren’t compatible with the rest of their views. The donor class that wanted Christie, settled for Romney, and wants Christie again needs a candidate who’ll slash at regulation in office and come off patriotic (and pro-Israel) enough to actually get into office. There’s plenty of overlap with the conservative hawks who can feel the movement shifting away from them, but libertarians are more worried about the donors than the likes of Bill Kristol or Rep. Peter King. One example: Rand Paul’s circle worries that Paul Singer may become enamored of the idea of a pro-gay marriage hawk and boost Liz Cheney’s campaign for U.S. Senate.
Every week there’s another reminder that the GOP’s libertarian wing hasn’t truly overcome the Bush wing. Back in Aspen, Christie gave them more fresh evidence. “President Obama has done nothing to change the policies of the Bush administration in the war on terrorism,” he said. “I mean practically nothing. You know why? Because they work.”
Christie, a Republican, was asked about the rising influence of libertarianism in his party. He could have said any number of things in response. He could have said that he thinks libertarians bring a lot of interesting and important ideas to the table, but sometimes go too far, and that he thinks that fears about the national-security state ordering drone strikes on Americans sitting at cafes are a case in point. He could have said that he understands people’s concerns about the National Security Agency’s monitoring of phone-call data, but that he is persuaded that it is necessary and that existing privacy protections are sufficient.
Instead he issued a blanket attack on libertarianism — “a very dangerous thought” — and implied that its adherents are unconcerned about the safety of innocent Americans, without any suggestion that they might be right about anything. Like a drone strike, he came at the question from miles above the ground. Unlike the military, he used no precision targeting. He said nothing at all about any particular controversy over national-security policy.
Libertarians are an important part of the Republican coalition. Republican politicians frequently disagree with libertarians on issues, but a broad-brush attack will understandably anger them. And even Republicans who aren’t down-the-line libertarians share some of their concerns. Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, for example, is a longtime supporter of the Patriot Act. He is, in other words, not a clone of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. But Sensenbrenner also favored the amendment to rein in the NSA that the House narrowly voted down this week. These Republicans can be persuaded to overcome their libertarian instincts on many issues — but not by being told that they shouldn’t have these instincts in the first place.
First, our military infrastructure is shrinking, rapidly. With the drawdown from Afghanistan, the end of the Iraq war, the sequester, and continued budgetary pressures, we may well see an Army of less than 400,000 active-duty troops. Large-scale interventions require large-scale forces, and the smaller size of all the major branches of the military will create its own limitations.
Second, there is little military or civilian appetite for nation-building. Nothing short of a direct attack on our country or a close ally (like South Korea) would currently motivate Americans to put substantial numbers of troops on the ground in harm’s way…
Fourth, we trust the government less. It’s not just the corruption (IRS, Fast & Furious) or the political cowardice (Benghazi), it’s also the incompetence. Not even the most comprehensive security state in the world can survive incompetence. We have a distressing habit of identifiying and interviewing prospective terrorists — only to let them walk free and launch attacks. What if we’re not trading liberty for security but instead surrending liberty and privacy without getting a corresponding security benefit in return?
There is such a thing as a responsible and serious national-security libertarianism, and it’s simply a manipulative dodge to invoke the families of 9/11 victims to slander serious members of an opposing intellectual movement. I could just as easily invoke the families of those who died as a direct result of the utterly ludicrous political correctness that dominated many of our rules of engagement and targeting decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan to “rebut” nation-building and interventionism, but that would be just as much of a dodge.
Via the Corner.