Jeb Bush: "I don't understand the debate" Over the NSA's Bulk Phone Records Collection Program

It doesn't work. It's unconstitutional. And it intrudes deeply into the privacy of millions.


credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter / CC BY-SA

Just in case there was any doubt, Jeb Bush decided to clear up any lingering questions about where he stood on one of his brother's more controversial programs: the National Security Agency's bulk collection of telephone metadata under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

In a speech in Florida, Bush, the former Florida governor who recently announced his intention to "actively explore the possibility" of a 2016 presidential run, said that "For the life of me, I don't understand the debate" over the program, according to The Wall Street Journal. The program, instituted in the wake of the September 11th terror attacks under the administration of Jeb's brother, President George W. Bush, allows the NSA to collect, store, and analyze masses of data on phone call patterns. 

It's a short remark, but it says a lot—both about Bush and the current way that the program is defended. 

What Bush offered is a classic non-defense defense. Not only does it signal support for the program, a favorite of Bush administration hawks, it suggests surprise at the idea that anyone would find the program controversial or worthy of discussion. It's not so much an attempt to defend the program as it is an attempt to minimize, and arguably to entirely dismiss, debate about the program. 

How could anyone be bothered by the program? After all, it doesn't collect call content, and, as the Journal notes, "supporters say it helps the U.S. government prevent terrorist attacks." 

For one thing, there is, at minimum, disagreement over whether it actually prevents attacks. As a task force created by the Obama administration to review the program found in 2013, "the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders."

As Cato Institute scholar Julian Sanchez noted in The Atlantic, the report's authors concluded that, contrary to assertions by defenders that the program was vital in dozens of cases, the metadata program "generated relevant information in only a small number of cases, and there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome would have been different without the section 215 telephony meta-data program."

And then there are the significant constitutional concerns. The indiscriminate program affects millions, most of whom have no connection to terror, but it was started in secret and operates with little oversight.

A little more than a year ago, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, a judge appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote in a ruling that he could not "imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely," he said, "such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment." 

So it probably doesn't work, and there's a strong argument that it violates the Constitution. Those both sound to me like pretty good reasons for a debate.

But forget all that for a moment. Does Jeb Bush truly not understand that some people—indeed, quite a lot of people—might find a vast, secret, program to spy on millions of citizens to be a little bit creepy? That many in the public might understandably find this to be a potential government overreach, or an abuse of federal power? 

Perhaps he really doesn't. If so, that should disqualify him from the GOP's presidential nomination before his run even officially starts. But I doubt that he is truly as flummoxed by concerns about the program as his dismissive remark suggests.

Instead, I suspect he knows all too well what the program entails, what its critics argue, and why it has remained a topic of controversy for so long. But Jeb Bush does not want to defend the particulars of the initiative so much as he wants to publicly stand by his brother's administration and then settle the issue by declaring that it is not one. Despite his declaration yesterday that he is his "own man," and not his brother or father, he would not even broach the possibility that his brother's program might be deserving of any critique. 

Put another way: Jeb Bush claims he doesn't understand the debate because he doesn't want there to be a debate. But there is one, and if he is to run for president, he will have to take part in it.

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  1. I don’t understand his appeal to anyone – other than his pliability when large donations are involved.

    1. Me either. Maybe I am wrong and if I am, feel free to call me on it mercilessly. I think Jeb Bush is going to be a train wreck of a candidate and has a snow ball’s chance in hell to win the nomination. I don’t care how much money he raises or how many “exerts” that worked for his brother he hires. The guy just has a political tin ear and seems not to understand this isn’t 2004. The circumstances and the nature of the GOP has changed.

      1. Plus he’s got an unfortunate name.

        1. The name isn’t going to help him. Even Republican who supported Bush don’t want to replay the early 2000s. The party and the country wants something new.

          Really the fact that Bush is running at all shows how unfit he is for the office. He really doesn’t seem to understand that his name is a problem. He is just that arrogant. If he were in any way fit for the office, he would stand back and let the Republicans get someone new. He could still get a cabinet position or something.

    2. Except this guy is too stupid a choice to be explained by that sort of raw cynicism.

    3. It’s so weird. By and large, he was a good governor. Even showed signs of being a limited government fan, though not a libertarian.

      Since then, it’s been downhill. Reminds me a little of how Al Gore went from conservative Democrat to, well, whatever he is now.

      1. GWB showed signs of being a limited government fan, and then he got elected.

        1. I wasn’t into politics too much when JEB was governor, but I do remember much wailing about how he was slashing state jobs. From that memory alone I was willing to give him a chance, but if you don’t see how the NSA is violating the constitution, I have no use for you.

          1. Yeah, he’s looking like a potentially fiscally conservative statist. Not good enough by a long shot, when what we need is an anti-Leviathan champion.

            1. If the LP runs someone like GJ again I’ll vote L again. If it is JEB v. Hill-dawg and some LP nut, I’ll vote fiscally conservative statist over free spending statist.

              1. I honestly don’t think either will get nominated, but the idea of that happening gives me a tummy ache.

                I’m voting for Paul, so long as he’s on the ballot. Not sure whether I’d vote for Walker or Cruz, both of which are imperfect from a libertarian perspective, but at least they both seem in the restrain-government-most-of-the-time camp.

                1. I wouldn’t be surprised if JEB isn’t nominated. There are a lot of R candidates. Who can beat Hillary for the donkey nod?

                  1. She couldn’t beat some unknown guy with no experience. Candidates are out there, without her baggage of corruption, incompetence, and, frankly, unlikability.

                    1. True. I guess no one saw BHO coming the first time

                  2. News just came out saying Bush and Christie were the two favored Republicans in California right now.

                    1. Is the republican base this out of touch with reality? Or did they ask democrats in california who would just love to see any of their awful candidates go up against the more awful Bush or Christie?

                    2. Considering the source, that’s not too surprising.

        2. I don’t know about George W. Bush seeming like a limited government guy. Yes, he made some noises in that direction, but “compassionate conservatism” had STATIST FUCK tattooed on its ass after a bad weekend in Tijuana.

          1. GWB was not a limited government guy, what he had was a lower asshole quotient then John McCain or AlGore.

            1. Well, there is that. I voted LP in any case.

        3. He’s slightly less establishment Republican than Lindsey Graham.

      2. I’ve heard Alaskans say similar things about Palin. That as governor she actually did a decent job and was a breath of fresh air. Then she got picked for VP and things got weird to the point where they didn’t even recognize this lady on TV who looked like their former governor.

    4. I actually thought he was ok before he started on his presidential quest. Now he just seems another statist War Party guy. I wouldn’t say I dislike him, but would certainly not vote for him.

      It seems to me it’s the mainstream media that’s pushing him. The other night on NBC News Chris Dodd was speaking after Bush signaled his intent. Dodd went on to say something like “That puts the Republican field at three with Bush, Christie and Cruz(?)…”. Gee, none others, huh?

      Pissed me off them trying to make choices for people by suggesting who the only viable candidates were.

      1. “Pissed me off them trying to make choices for people by suggesting who the only viable candidates were.”

        If you continue to watch closely I am sure that you will see a lot more of that. When I first started giving my attention to presidential campaigns this was one of my earliest rude awakenings.

        The “Frontrunner” and “Top Tier” routine is well rehearsed and consistently used across all the mainstream outlets.

  2. He is either stupid, a liar, or both. I don’t see how anyone can “not understand the debate” and have the nerve to run for high federal office.

    This really is the worst possible answer he could have given. It will just make both sides of the issue not trust him and think he is on the other side. You can make an intelligent argument for these programs. It is a wrong argument in my view, but it is not unreasonable. If he supports these programs, he should make the argument and have the courage to stand up for the programs. He only doesn’t make that argument because he is either too stupid to make it properly or he understands it is a political loser and lacks the courage to make it anyway or isn’t quite craven enough to just lie and choose the other side.

    1. It won’t hurt him. His target base doesn’t choose politicians based on these things. It’s about emotional comfort level.

      1. Did we have to think overmuch about the implications of what the candidate said or put in the effort to research the candidate’s actual record?
        – Because that’s a lot of work.

        Did he say the correct things in the correct way?
        – Well, okay then.

        1. You forgot the hair. Mitt was nominated mostly for his hair, which I must admit does make him look positively presidential.

    2. Maybe he is trying to appeal to people who also don’t think it’s a big issue, and maybe he thinks that’s a lot of potential voters.

      I feel like I have seen polls that indicate a large swath of the public is ok with the NSA spying on us, or is at least ok with the answers they give about it not being a violation of their privacy, whereas the people who are pissed off about it aren’t the voters he is targeting?

      But for him to say he doesn’t understand the debate does seem to indicate a lack of empathy as well as a sufficient understanding of the views of others. Not a good trait.

      I wonder where he went to college, if he even went at all?

      1. It is pretty amazing that he can’t understand how anyone would have a problem with the NSA listening to their phone calls. What a shit head.

        1. Well, I think in most people’s minds, the NSA only listens to *bad* people’s calls.

          Honestly, it seems that you need a police state who simply does not give a fuck and breaks into everyone’s house just for funsies in order to convince people of civil rights (see: Eastern European, 1770s America).

          1. Sadly AuH20, I agree with your comments.

            Not only do most of the individuals I know seem to think this way, but a great many who I’ve seen interviewed.

            Then there are the citizens who remind me of this joke:

            “What do you think of the ignorance and apathy which seems prevalent amongst your fellow citizens?”

            “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

          2. “Well, I think in most people’s minds, the NSA only listens to *bad* people’s calls.”

            I have 3 words for Jeb: GET IT ALL.

            That went to far far too many news outlets. There’s no delusion left about who is in the US dragnet. Even the most deluded Statist holdouts had to Kao Tao at events hosting Greenwald after he won the Pulitzer. Albeit it was over a year later. AFTTER he published a book and stacked on the iceberg of other reporting. About ~8 years of reporting, in fact, about the US surveillance menace. Then they gave a wan little cough and handclap acknowledgement that Bush era acts passed through Congress weren’t mere conspiracy theory. That’s a stiff sense of denial OR its an admission that perhaps the players were taking home some of that state-driven surveillance payout.

            Methinks from the dealings I’ve had its the latter and not the former. The people using your tax money to provide surveillance tech to law enforcement and the agencies are going to fight YOU over their payday bar.

            That’s why you can’t squeeze Jeb for an acknowledgement. Good Germans were holocaust deniers all the way to Nuremberg sentencing. They believed the German public could not be accountable for their crimes because Hitler “kept” it from them.

            Jeb is pro secrecy. It’s a family tradition. The American public knows already. He should expect low-low percentages to vote up their own role in global mass surveillance that doesn’t catch any terrorists.

      2. I wonder where he went to college, if he even went at all?

        Cuz colage makez ewe smartt! /Bo

      3. I wonder where he went to college, if he even went at all?

        According to wikipedia he went to UTA and has a degree in Latin American Affairs.

        So it is understandable that, as a non-lawyer, he is confused about laws being at odds with the constitution. He probably has the idea of, “It’s a law so it must be good.” bullshit statist mentality.

        1. a degree in Latin American Affairs

          Affairs affairs?

          1. +1 Argentine paramour

      4. He went to Texas. Actually he was supposed to be the “smart” one of the Bush Brothers. What’s going on with Neil, the brother they never talk about?

    3. I agree with him. There shouldn’t even be a debate. They should read the fucking 4rth amendment and then get a fucking warrant. And the people who didn’t should go to jail.

  3. For the life of me, I don’t understand the debate…

    Don’t worry, Jeb. I’m sure there’s a lot of debates you don’t understand.

    Honestly, if they run this guy, stick a fork in the Republican party. They’re done. That the party leadership would not only be so indifferent to the views of party loyalists to pick this guy (not at all surprised), but that they’d be so politically tone-deaf as to pick another guy with the last name of Bush just six years after the his brother left office with a 22% approval rating? Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, raw, unprincipled, political calculation is supposed to be these guys’ strong suit.

    1. raw, unprincipled, political calculation is supposed to be these guys’ strong suit

      I don’t think there has been a Republican since Nixon that had that as a strength. The Democrats seem much more adept at it, though.

  4. I don’t really understand the debate either. How can anyone, other than maybe the person in charge of it, be OK with the program? What the hell is wrong with everyone?

    1. In a moment of shocking naivete, I read that headline and thought Bush was taking the libertarian position. Don’t know what came over me.

      What is nice is that if there really is a little more desire among the public to rein in the government (at least on the spending and spying fronts), it’s maybe better for Bush to firmly define himself as one of the statist candidates.

      1. I read that headline and thought Bush was taking the libertarian position.

        *backs away slowly from ProlD’ib, never losing eye contact – then turns and runs*

        1. I know, weird. I was surprised for a moment, then I started reading. So sad.

        2. Don’t lock eyes with them don’t do it…


      1. I feel in my heart that it does, and feels trump reals.

      2. Since it’s twice as likely I’ll be killed by lightning, I’d prefer those hundreds of billions of dollars be poured into the War on Electrical Storms.

        1. That’s just your unbridled hatred of charged particles talking, FdA. I don’t know what kind of “ist” that makes you but my feelings tell me you are one.

    3. Auric Demonocles FTW!

    4. Fourth Amendment. Secure in your papers. No debate, Jebbie.

  5. 1) Bush.

    2) Common Core.

    3) This lack of understanding.

    Yer OUT!!

  6. He doesn’t understand because he thinks it doesn’t effect HIM. You see it on both sides. We have McCain and King and the like loving war,their not going,or Dems hating on ‘rich’ people,they get paid well in gov. funds and if they all leave office,a nice job with little work. Bush is as idiot and thinks he’s better then us,as many Royals thought back in the day. They believe wealth and or security flow for them.

    1. Not to sound pro McCain, which I definitely am not, but he did his time and then some in a very bad North Vietnamese POW camp (the “Hanoi Hilton” if you’re aware of the name). He doesn’t have to go for it to affect him because he’s already been.

  7. *ahem*

    Mr. Booooosh? Fuck off, chubby slaver.

  8. “For one thing, there is, at minimum, disagreement over whether it actually prevents attacks.”

    You’re being too charitable, here.

      1. Hey I have one of those and so far it works great! I also have volcano insurance. You never know…

        1. Is your cloud insurance up to date?

    1. No shit. They can’t name one instance where the program prevented an attack.

      I can, however, name some instances where journalists were spied on, so maybe we just misunderstand what they mean by ‘terrorist’.

      1. Can’t release such sensitive information, old sport. Wouldn’t want Jerry catching on, eh wot?

        Good God, man – do you want the Hun to win?

        1. Captain Blackadder: So in the name of security, sir, everyone who enters the room has to have his bottom fondled by this drooling pervert?

          Captain Darling: I’m only doing my job, Blackadder.

          Captain Blackadder: Well, how lucky you are then that your job is also your hobby.

      2. It is no misunderstanding. We are hunting down the real terrorists, whistle blowers, errr, leakers like Edward Snowden who release sensitive classified information on our programs to track down leakers and the journalists who aid and abet them.

        /end Obama Administration

  9. Jeb Bush: “I don’t understand the debate


    1. …and FoE beats me with my own comment. Again. crap.

      1. Resistance is Futile!

  10. For the life of me I don’t understand why everyone thinks statism is the best we can do.

    1. Conditioning and boiled frog proverb?

    2. They think they’ll be the one’s in charge.

  11. This is our Best and Brightest, America. George Carlin was right…

  12. This is why you should all vote

    Almanian for President – 2016
    “I Probably Won’t Do Any Worse”

    Couple planks:

    1) No, fuck you, cut spending (yeah, I stole it – SUE ME, ProL!)
    2) Eliminate every agency with a three-letter acronym – DHS, HHS, FBI, CIA, FDA, EPA, ATF, etc. If Congress balks, I just stop appointing Directors.
    3) My cabinet will consist of my five dogs, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams (if they’ll accept) and some other people i’ll think of.
    4) The White House will be sold to Disney for use as a theme park, with proceeds going to keep bird shit off the other monuments in Washington. My house will be the President’s Residence. We’ll still have bonfires on the weekends in the summer.

    That’s a start – I have more from my 2012 campaign (which garnered over 100 votes if my friends are to be believed – I know I voted for myself, so there’s that…).

    1. If you have a pig roast and some kegs I’ll vote for you. I don’t even have to go,just seeing it on MSNCB,FOX and CNN will be enough.

      1. The roasting of the pig will also keep them terrorists away more effectively than a van load of secret service agents.

    2. 3) My cabinet will consist of my five dogs, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams (if they’ll accept) and some other people i’ll think of.

      Can I be Secretary of Education? Day 1, fire everyone and place the onus on the states. Day 2, request zero funding. Day 3, resign.

      1. YOU’RE IN!

        1. Huzzah!

  13. He doesn’t understand the debate?

    And I thought George was supposed to be the stupid one! *badum-CHHH*

    Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

  14. There is something that worries me even more with the NSA program.

    Define ‘meta-data’. The NSA says things like who to, who from, and how long, but meta-data can be (and I suspect is) a lot more intrusive.

    For instance, it would be not at all difficult listen into conversations and then text-mine for words, phrases, and names and then accurately call that ‘meta-data’. Everytime I saw someone like Gen Alexander talk about the program, they always seemed to parse their words carefully around ‘meta-data’.

    Of course my tin-foil may be getting thin.

    1. The article linked below is from 2013 Bobarian, yet I think it answers the basics of your question. Here’s a good paragraph to read with your hat on:

      “The metadata could be used, variously, to determine whether multiple people were together in a particular place; to track the movements of a device; to evoke the breadth and depth of the connections between people; or, combined with other forms of data analysis, to identify the names behind the numbers.”


      1. Any time I saw actual people from the NSA discuss ‘meta-data’, they always said something like “such as” or “including”, and never made statements like “only” or “exclusively”.

        Snowden broke some pieces off on them for parsing this way, which makes me trust any further statements just as well.

        1. To whit:

          In a sense, the most powerful part of the document is the N.S.A.’s definition of such “telephony metadata,” which includes all of the previously described kinds of information but specifies that the program is “not limited to” just those bits. As the quantity and variety of metadata increases, so, too, does the scope of the N.S.A.’s order.

  15. poor little silver spoon baby.so out of touch

  16. Perhaps he really doesn’t.

    No, he does. I’m sure he knows he is on the wrong side of the Constitutional argument. He just supports the program and is using the tactic of marginalizing the opposition rather than offer a serious rebuttal to legitimate concerns that have been raised.

    1. Jeb Bush claims he doesn’t understand the debate because he doesn’t want there to be a debate.

      Ding! Ding! Ding!

  17. Just when I was starting to like the guy…oh, well, back to the drawing board.

  18. In what significant way is Jeb Bush not a liberal?

  19. I submit that Bush may well have torpedoed himself re a possible run for the presidency, of his creation as the Republican candidate for that office.

  20. The first two Bush presidencies should have proven to people that the family holds principles in the same regard as most people do used toilet paper. Only a fool would think a third Bush would be any different.

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