Civil libertarians' hypocrisy
By Jonah Goldberg
Published: Monday, July 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Self-proclaimed civil libertarians are up in arms over the National Security Agency's massive database containing information about whom we call and what we do on the web. Defenders of the program say, “So what?” Unless you're a terrorist, no one in the government will ever bother to access that information.
That's not good enough, say civil libertarians.
“At least 850,000 people have security clearances that give them access to this information,” Tiffiniy Cheng of Fight for the Future recently wrote on The Huffington Post. “That's the size of Boston. Imagine if they leak information about a politician or business leaders' personal life — what about a prominent activist? The opportunities for abuse and blackmail are endless.”
One needn't be a privacy absolutist to believe that this is a legitimate concern. One can even support the NSA's PRISM program and still want significant safeguards against abuse.
What I have a hard time understanding, however, is how one can get worked up into a near panic about an overreaching national security apparatus while celebrating other government expansions into our lives, chief among them the hydrahead leviathan of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare). The 2009 stimulus created a health database that will store all your health records. The Federal Data Services Hub will record everything bureaucrats deem useful, from your incarceration record and immigration status to whether or not you had an abortion or were treated for depression or erectile dysfunction.
In other words, while the NSA can tell if you searched the web for “Viagra,” the Hub will know if you were actually prescribed the medication and for how long. Yes, there are rules for keeping that information private, but you don't need security clearance or a warrant to get it.
Then there's the IRS. We already have evidence of abuse there. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, had its tax returns and private donor information leaked to the news media last year, presumably in order to embarrass Mitt Romney (he gave the group $10,000) and others during the presidential election.
And yet, worrying about NSA abuse is cast as high-minded while worrying about ObamaCare or the IRS is seen as paranoid. Why?
Part of the answer surely stems from the fact the progressive dream of government-guaranteed health care is fashionable, while opposition to it is perceived by liberal elites as backward or villainous. But it goes deeper than that.
There are basically two visions of oppressive government, the Orwellian and the Huxleyan. In George Orwell's “1984,” the dystopia is a totalitarian police state, where everyone is snooped on and bullied. In Aldous Huxley's “Brave New World,” most people are happy because the government takes care of them.
Culturally, Americans of all stripes recoil at anything that seems like a step on the slippery slope toward the Orwellian state. But we lack the same reflexive response against things that smack of the Huxleyan.
Our Constitution requires the state to protect its citizens from threats such as foreign terrorism. Governments can go too far fulfilling that duty, of course, conjuring valid concerns of an Orwellian police state. And we routinely have healthy debates over where that line is. If only we could have similarly healthy debates about a government with an eternal license to do things for our own good.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés,” now on sale in paperback.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Davis embraces new opportunity with Pirates
- NHL notebook: Bruins’ Lucic fined $5,000 for spearing
- Mail for IRS delivered to Squirrel Hill home
- Riverhounds squander 2-goal lead, settle for draw
- NFL notebook: Pryor will be cut if he’s not traded
- ‘Patriots’ back Nevada rancher; Reid labels them ‘domestic terrorists’
- Frye: Commission discusses ‘second opening day effect’
- State Police: People injured in Parkway crash resulting from police chase
- Instagram builds Oakmont barber’s rep for innovative cuts, ‘hair tattooing’
- Architecture photos show difference between drama, fact