It’s Not 1984

So everyone is in high dudgeon about the latest of the Obama scandals, which involves the government acquiring all of Verizon’s phone records over the past few months. I made the mistake of listening to Glenn Beck for a few moments on the way into work, and I turned it off after he claimed that this demonstrates that the United States is now a totalitarian state, and that we will “dwarf” Nazi Germany in the years ahead as we use these phone records to commit genocide. “Hitler,” he claimed, “would have killed every Jew on the planet if he had this technology.” And, by implication, Herr Obama will supposedly do the same thing.

Yeah, no.

That’s not to say this isn’t outrageous, especially in light of the president’s overwhelming hypocrisy on the issue. By now, you’ve probably seen the video of his speech where he excoriates George Bush for doing far, far less than what he’s done. The liberals now screeching about Obama’s overreach are always sure to note that this is really just the logical extension of Bushism, or, as Ron Fournier claimed in the National Journal, “Welcome to the era of Bush-Obama, a 16-year span of U.S. history that will be remembered for an unprecedented erosion of civil liberties and a disregard for transparency.”

Yeah, still not buying it.

In the first place, Bush would have been thrown out of office if he’d collected every domestic phone record of one of the largest cell phone providers in the United States. Bush’s surveillance program was actually quite limited in scope and only monitored foreign phone calls, painstakingly avoiding assembling records on domestic phone traffic. The outrage over Obama’s actions are being tempered by an attempt to claim this is all just more Bush, when it’s actually a colossal escalation of the Bush policy. The double standard here is really breathtaking, especially in light of the new information that Obama was gathering and monitoring traffic on major websites like Facebook and Google.

For crying out loud, remember the outcry when the Patriot Act gave the Department of Homeland Security the right to see what library books you checked out? (Number of times the Department of Homeland Security actually used that power under George W. Bush: 0.)  Library books. How quaint. Now Obama’s checking umpteen million Google searches, and it’s just “more of the same.” Ummm, no it isn’t. It’s a lot, lot more of more of the same. How many times do you check out a library book? How many times do you perform a Google search or post on Facebook? Quite a broad ratio, no? One of these things is exponentially not like the other.

And still, I don’t live in fear of the Obama gestapo.

Why not? Because the sheer volume of this information prohibits its use with any specificity. There is no human being that is going to lay eyes on any of it – it’s all being fed into a massive computer to look for patterns or some such, and the likelihood of a government bureaucrat seeing you reposting the latest cute George Takei pic in your newsfeed are less than the odds of you winning the Powerball lottery. And don’t worry, porn addicts – the NSA isn’t going to publish transcripts of all your kinky phone sex conversations with 1-900-KLINGONLOVE. That’s simply not how this works.

That’s not to say that, on some level, this isn’t troubling. Of course it is. The current application of this gathering of information isn’t as disturbing as the “slippery slope” as to where it could lead, just as library books have lead to Google searches. But where we are right this moment poses no real danger to your personal privacy – it’s where we could be tomorrow that ought to disturb us. Thankfully, public outrage is virulent enough that we’re going to see much of this scaled back in the years ahead. At least, I think we will. But, as President Romney can tell you, I’ve been very, very wrong before.

My prior wrongness is preventing me from extracting any measure of schadenfreude from the implosion of the Obama presidency. Yes, we conservatives said all along that this president was slipshod and incompetent, and that his signature achievements were economically unworkable. As Obamacare implodes and the president tries to use idiocy as an excuse to justify his endless array of missteps, we’re being proven right on an almost daily basis. But there’s little joy in a doomsayer’s vindication, because it just means that things are as bad as we said they were. I’d rather be wrong and have things not be so bad.

But I must concede that, with all of the nightmarish problems out there on the horizon – entitlement bankruptcy, national insolvency, economic stagnation and high unemployment for as far as the eye can see – a government computer looking for patterns in over a billion phone calls just isn’t one of them. Although it could be that it’s just because I’ll always try to be on the other side any time Glenn Beck and Ron Fournier agree.

Phase Two and a Big Head
Anatomy of a Column

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