The burgeoning scandal over government snooping into our personal thoughts and writings led Obama to stage a news conference last week, ‘staging’ being the operative word, given that his fallback response to complicated and messy realities is to emit earnest rhetoric and declare the problem solved. Perhaps this habit is related to his extraordinary success in parleying a fairly thin record of achievement into the keys to the White House, which certainly could cause one to develop excessive faith in one’s magical powers. Rather than, for example, the state’s grave crisis of legitimacy in 2008 that he temporarily eased. Imagine what pitchfork sales would be like if Bush and Cheney or their clones were the ones presiding over the vast expansion of police powers that we read about daily.
Obama told elegantly phrased whoppers in his statement to the assembled reporters, but as befits a lawyer and expert parser of English, he could probably mount a successful I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman defense. He assured us that the NSA was not ‘listening to’ Americans’ phone calls, but he pointedly did NOT say that the NSA was not collecting tapes of them to be listened to later.
He also made soothing statements such as this one:
I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused. I’m comfortable that if the American people examined exactly what was taking place, how it was being used, what the safeguards were, that they would say, you know what, these folks are following the law and doing what they say they’re doing.
People who are annoyingly accustomed to getting their way in life and imposing their views on others often say things like, ‘I really think’ or I’m comfortable with. . .’ What they mean is, ‘Because I am special, when I say I really, really believe X, then X is the case’. They equate their feeling of certainty with reality because they are so used to having people go along with them as part of their power and privilege. Since they face contradiction only rarely, they lose the ability to distinguish between the world and their perception of it.
The problem for Obama arises when we open the newspaper the next day and read the latest revelation about what is really going on inside those opaque NSA beehives full of our Internet search data and private emails. Such as the discovery that police departments around the country have been illegally utilizing stolen personal data to mount common criminal cases and then lying about it to judge, thereby undermining what’s left of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Forget those cop shows you see every night in which struggling detectives have to dig up evidence and bring in bad guys—they’ve been fed private dirt from the feds for 20 years, and we’re just now finding out about it.
Of course, the average citizen will promptly dismiss these doings as irrelevant to their personal lives because they’re not engaged in drug dealing, bomb plots, or even cheating on their taxes (much). But this is short-sighted in the extreme. Nothing stands between Obama and the police/security apparatus that he commands from utilizing the exact same tactics against legitimate political action and dissent, such as the Occupy movement (which undoubtedly was undermined in precisely this way), foreign policy critics, defenders of human rights, or commercial adversaries of U.S.-based corporations. And if they have this power, they will surely use it.
Obama also stubbornly refuses to admit that the lengthy history of covering up these snooping activities now gives the lie to his assurances that they are telling us the truth and nothing but the truth about them now. We still have elected U.S. senators stating publicly that there is a whole lot more that they wish they could say but are prevented by law from doing so (Wyden: ‘We cannot even tap out the truth in Morse code’.) We have an Internet service provider shutting down while submitting to a gag rule that prevents its owner from telling us why. Yet Obama blandly insists in front of the assembled news media that he sees no reason why people should mistrust him, and because he is not George W. Bush, many gullible people believe him.
Also extremely revealing was Obama’s resentful crack about Glenn Greenwald’s gradual release of more and more information about the official government espionage against its own citizens.
“These leaks are released drip by drip, one a week, to kind of maximize attention and see if they can catch us at some imprecision on something’.
True, The Guardian’s reporters have been clever to avoid the Wikileaks trap by parceling out what they have learned about the government’s illicit actions bit by bit and filtering it carefully, thereby sidestepping any tendentious accusations about ‘aiding the enemy’ but also making is harder and harder for Obama and his generals to lie to us.
It’s all just so unfair.