Even before the Washington Post and the Guardian reported that the National Security Agency's spying on the phone records of Verizon customers (and by implication all phone users in the U.S.) had been compounded by its siphoning of data directly from the servers of nine major Internet companies, journalists, pundits and casual observers were starting to get the impression that the Obama administration's obsession with security matters and its cavalier attitude toward civil liberties seemed somehow … familiar. Where, they asked in a deja vu-ish manner, have we seen this before? Oh. That's right. This is all a horrible expansion of the programs and priorities of the guy Barack Obama spent so much time slamming as the devil incarnate when he first ran for office. Sharply titling its take on the subject, "Bush's 4th term," Politico correctly points out that the president's lingering fan club members are clinging to aging promises while ignoring the incumbent's actions.
The outrage over President Barack Obama's authorization of a nearly limitless federal dive into Americans' phone records obscures a hiding-in-plain-sight truth about the 44th president many of his supporters have overlooked for years:
For all his campaign-trail talk of running the "most transparent administration" in U.S history, Obama never promised to reverse the 43rd president's policies on domestic anti-terrorism surveillance — and he's been good on his word.
Obama's effort to strike what he's repeatedly called "a balance" between personal liberty and homeland security has exposed what amounts to a split political personality: Candidate Obama often spoke about personal freedom with the passion of a constitutional lawyer — while Commander-in-Chief Obama has embraced and expanded Bush-era surveillance efforts like the 2011 extension of the Patriot Act, which paved the way for a secret court order allowing the gathering of Verizon phone records.
In an irony now being savored by his conservative critics, Obama administration officials are now relying on Republicans to defend him against charges from liberals and the libertarian right that he's recklessly prioritized national security over personal liberty.
Bonus kick in the nuts: As Mike Riggs noted earlier, the reliable government-establishment cheerleaders at the New York Times editorial board say, "[t]he administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it."* How very, very true. And yet, how familiar …
Well, at least they finally noticed.
* Note: Shortly after I quoted the New York Times, the editorial was reworded to read, "The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue." (emphasis added). No mention of the change has been added to the editorial. Friggin' wimps.
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