Chris Christie took to the stage of the Republican Governors’ forum in Colorado yesterday to light into libertarians, the new isolationist strain of the Republican Party, and Rand Paul in particular. The casus belli in this instance was a vote in the House of Representatives over the National Security Agency’s data-gathering that Paul and others of his ilk deem an unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of Americans.
AEI’s Marc Thiessen and Gary Schmitt have written on this question [here and here] and I don’t have a lot of substantive comment to add to theirs. Let’s set aside the obsession with the notion that the federal government is peering into our email and phone calls with lascivious interest, the subtext being that we’re all secretly a bunch of Anthony Weiners or Mark Richs hiding from the predations of Uncle Sam. Let’s set aside the fact that no actual content is being gathered, merely patterns and broad data. The reality is that this week’s vote in the House of Representatives is a sign of serious problems within the Republican Party. And more broadly in the American body politic as a whole.
Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman, who head the American Internationalism Project here at AEI, had a piece on this subject earlier in the year. Others too have raised the alarm. And now Christie’s signed on as well. The problem is simple: too many conflate the growth of the federal government and the unbridled economic interference embraced by Obama and his followers with what they see as a Soviet style security state they believe is growing up in the bounds of Metropolitan Washington. Mind you, Obama isn’t helping, attacking his opponents via the IRS and calling it a “phony” scandal. But that security state doesn’t exist.
Why is it that so many Republicans (and quite a few Democrats too) believe the state is out to get them? The answer, for the most part, is that this administration and its predecessors in the Bush administration did a terrible job briefing Congress, looping Congress in, and helping Congress understand what exactly the federal government is up to. No surprise that those suspicious of the government for whatever reason might wonder if no one is bothering to actually read them in. That’s the administration’s fault, and it must be rectified.
Then there’s Rand Paul, his father, and their acolytes. These are the fringes, people who in other times would be sitting in their basements with tinfoil wrapped around their heads clutching their shortwave radios. That they have managed to latch onto the mainstream is an indictment both of the administration, and those of us who believe in internationalism and understand what is necessary to fight terrorism.
The fact that almost half of the House Republican caucus voted for the Amash amendment to effectively shut down the NSA’s terrorist surveillance program is a flashing red light on the dashboard — and we’d better take heed.
It’s time to start educating those who can be, and isolating those who cannot. Chris Christie has started what should be a serious public debate. Let’s keep it going.