Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Peggy Noonan Eviscerates Chris Christie

When she's on point, she's on point:

To call growing concerns about the size, depth, history, ways and operations of our now-huge national-security operation "esoteric" or merely abstract is, simply, absurd. Our federal government is involved in massive data collection that apparently includes a database of almost every phone call made in the U.S. The adequacy of oversight for this system is at best unclear. The courts involved are shadowed in secrecy and controversy. Is it really wrong or foolhardy or unacceptably thoughtful to wonder if the surveillance apparatus is excessive, or will be abused, or will erode, or perhaps in time end, any expectation of communications privacy held by honest citizens?

It is not. These are right and appropriate concerns, very American ones.

Consider just two stories from the past few days. The Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Valentino-Devries and Danny Yadron had a stunning piece Friday that touches on the technological aspect of what our government can now do. The FBI is able to remotely activate microphone on phones running Android software. They can now record conversations in this way. They can do the same with microphones in laptops. They can get to you in a lot of ways! Does this make you nervous? If not, why not?

Reuters has a piece just today reporting that data gathered by the National Security Agency has been shared with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The agency that is supposed to be in charge of counterterrorism is sharing data with an agency working in the area of domestic criminal investigations.

Luckily Lois Lerner is on leave, so the IRS isn't involved yet.

The concerns of normal Americans about the new world we're entering—the world where Big Brother seems inexorably to be coming to life and we are all, at least potentially Winston Smith—is not only legitimate, it is wise and historically grounded.


So Christie is wrong that concerns and reservations about surveillance are the province of intellectuals and theorists—they're not. He's wrong that their concerns are merely abstract—they're concrete. Americans don't want to be listened in to, and they don't want their emails read by strangers, especially the government. His stand isn't even politically shrewd—it needlessly offends sincere skeptics and isn't the position of the majority of his party, I suppose with the exception of big ticket donors in Aspen.

And Christie's argument wasn't even…an argument. It was a manipulation. If you don't see it his way you don't know what 9/11 was—you weren't there, you don't know how people suffered. If you don't see it his way you don't care about the feelings of the widows and orphans.

It seems to me telling that he either doesn't have a logical argument or doesn't think he has to make it.


It is up to the people in the country, to citizens, to control and limit government surveillance, to the extent they can and in accord with true national-security needs.

That is what a conservative, with all his inherent skepticism toward groups of humans wielding largely unaccountable governmental power, would want to do. What is surprising here is that Christie is so quick and sloppy with his denunciation of conservatives who are acting like conservatives. It is odd because he, too, is a conservative.

His remarks were bad in another way, and it is connected to the word manipulation.

His comments on surveillance were an appeal only to emotion, not to logic and argument and fact, but emotion. This is increasingly the way politics is done in America now. It's how they do politics at the White House, where the president usually doesn't bother to make a case and instead just tries to set a mood. But it's not how Christie normally approaches public questions. In speeches and appearances in the past he's addressed the logic of the issue at hand, whether it's spending or the implications of pension promises, or union contracts, or tax rates. That's part of why he's been so popular—he's blunt and logical, has an argument to make and makes it clearly.

Maybe he's using emotion and special pleading here because he was speaking on a national issue, not a state one, and felt insecure. If this is the best he can do he should feel insecure.

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