Why do people support the wiretapping program?
As a product of the 1990s, I often find myself asking this question. Certainly if Clinton had instituted such a program, he would have been raked across the coals by everyone from Bob Barr to Russ Feingold - and rightfully so.
The Post's Eugene Robinson has a fairly good answer for the question he asks: what the hell is going on? He thinks it boils down to fear, sort of a national psychosis brought on by the war on terror and an economy that's not helping them out.
I think there's something else at work - a lack of good historical education. I have a hunch that most people come out of high school thinking that repressive regimes just happen. Maoist China? Third Reich Germany? Khmer Rouge Cambodia? Tragic. Horrifying. But we're reassured that it can't happen here by the foreignness of the study. Unlike most other nations, America has never really experienced a truly repressive regime (though Wilson and McCarthy tried their damndest). So we don't analyze how repressive regimes get their start, instead writing it off to some vague rationale like cultural differences or evil, manipulative people.
But people who know their history know that repressive regimes (or at least repressive regimes that replace free ones) galvanize themselves around emotions of fear, usually whipped up by some cataclysmic event. For an extreme example, recall how the Reichstag fire in Germany gave Hitler the ability to dismantle the Weimar Republic. Or how the Maoist revolution somehow mysteriously gained steam after Japan's invasion. Perhaps if people understood this about history, they would be less confident about the immunity of America from such repression.
Of course, I don't think Bush or anyone up there has dictatorial dreams. I have no doubt that Bush has the best interests of America at heart. The point is that I'm fairly certain that all repressors took power wanting to "save" their country from some threat or another, and if we allow the erosion of freedom to continue, it's only a matter of time before someone starts viewing Congress as a minor inconvenience. (Oh, wait, that's happening too.)
My point is this: people simply don't realize how dangerous it is to say "go ahead, I have nothing to hide" when it comes to unwarranted snooping. If civil liberties such as freedom of the press and the right to privacy cease to become sacrosanct, it endangers the well-being of a free society. There ought to be no "free passes" in the name of security, for such exceptions threaten the structure of our government far more than a terrorist attack ever could.
But not only are people not concerned with the erosion of their civil liberties, but they're also actively participating in the limitation of public debate. Already it has become unacceptable for public figures to voice certain opinions; would a pundit not named Stephen Colbert dare to point out that Ahmadinejad's letter was not just mindless drivel? Those of us who have ideas outside of the mainstream are scared to voice them for fear of being branded a terrorist sympathizer. This, too, is dangerous. Those who shout epithets in place of reasoned debate are to be condemned, but just as culpable are those in power who do not stand up to such reprehensible behavior. Take from that statement what you will.
Also, this is entertaining - though, sadly, it comes with no pictures.
Update: This is both scary and hilarious. If there were one of these in Nashville, I'm sure that I and many of my friends would have ended up on there several times over. (Okay, maybe not Ben.) I wonder if current Boulderian Mike Levy has made it on there yet...