Sunday, May 14, 2006

Polling illegal surveillance and defining America

Newsweek reports that Americans are wary of NSA surveillance:
According to the latest NEWSWEEK poll, 53 percent of Americans think the NSA’s surveillance program “goes too far in invading people’s privacy,” while 41 percent see it as a necessary tool to combat terrorism.
The question is oddly split, but the first real poll testing reaction to this program shows some real unhappiness. As an unpopular president and an even less popular vice-president set themselves up for a fight over this domestic surveillance, it's nice to see that the program isn't popular either.

The Wichita Eagle's Philip Brownlee points out the simple problem, there isn't any oversight. I'll have more to say about what this who episode tells us about the American psyche, but the Mystery Pollster's point that people apparently find it acceptable to go too far is certainly worth pondering, as is Billmon's point that "What the government is doing is illegal and unamerican, and that would still be true if the polls showed 99% support -- in fact, it would be even more true."

These polls tell us about the political implications and public understanding of the issues, not about the legality or appropriateness of the policies. That people seem so willing to let the government know everyone they talk to is disturbing because it isn't the government's place to know that. Of course you have nothing to hide, but that doesn't mean the government gets to check up on you. I don't have contraband weapons in my home, but the police would need a warrant of they wanted to come in and verify that claim. That's what America means.

This gets me back to the point I made about some Kansas representatives' obsession with the English language. If everyone here spoke Yiddish all of a sudden, nothing would be different – America would still be America. If the government seizes the power to gather whatever information it wants about anyone at random, that would not be America anymore.

All the rhetoric about the National Anthem, like rhetoric about flag burning, the horrors of Roe v. Wade, or the evils of evolution, are petty distractions from actual issues that are eroding the moral bedrock of this nation. The nation wasn't founded as a Christian nation, its morality isn't embodied in skin color or language or when you think human life begins or where you think life's diversity comes from. The nation's moral core rests on a set of liberties, liberties our founding fathers found self-evident.

President Bush has said that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. Perhaps the conservative claim that we are fighting "a radical subculture which makes demands on the 'host' culture to live by their ways or else." The question is which culture is making those claims. George Bush and Dick Cheney offer us a choice between life and safety or a surrender of the core American freedoms and the essence of our system of government, a limited executive bounded by checks and balances. If indeed the terrorists hope to take away our freedoms, how can we defeat them by surrendering that liberty?