NSA and the Cult of the Presidency
Another day, another scandal, as the headline states.
A lot will be written about the NSA spying story in the next couple weeks, but I felt it necessary to set the stage for what could get messy with a few thoughts.
According to CBS, a man stepped forward claiming that the NSA—the world’s largest intelligence collecting agency—is and has been collecting mountains of data on Americans without any sort of warrant or justifiable cause. The man, Edward Snowden, is a former CIA employee who worked out of an NSA office in Hawaii and has disclosed a great deal of information to The Guardian, a UK news source.
And then he took off for Hong Kong because he says, and I quote, that they “have a spirited commitment to free speech.”
He does realize that Hong Kong is officially part of China now, right…?
More likely is the fact that he wanted to be somewhere that the NSA couldn’t immediately put their fingers on him, and Hong Kong is a pretty kickin’ place to be, if Rush Hour 2 is to be believed (which I have every reason to think that it should be).
At any rate, Snowden knows full well that what he has come forward with is worthy of being punished for, but has decided that it was still the right thing to do. He believes that the government has far overstepped its bounds in the invasion of people’s privacy and that there is little to no oversight for agents who are, in fact, spying on people.
So this raises numerous questions, the first of which being whether or not the NSA is doing what Mr. Snowden has accused it of doing and if that is, in fact, illegal.
However, one of the biggest problems about having this debate is that shortly after bringing up the topic, someone will inevitably say something akin to “yeah, but why weren’t you upset about this when Bush was president??? He did the same thing!!!” Their point being that the criticisms against anything going on in the Obama administration are simply partisan attacks that would not be there if a Republican were in office.
Unfortunately, after a remark such as that, the debate devolves into partisan nonsense that absolutely no one benefits from and, more importantly, ignores the real issue completely. The question still stands as to whether or not government agencies should be spying on people for whatever reason they feel like.
This is, ultimately, not a question about Obama, Bush, or any other president. It is a question about right and wrong according to the rule of law, rather than what one man says or does.
We have, however, come to a point in our society that presumes one to be on a certain “team” when it comes to political topics or discussions of social issues that have political ties. A stance cannot be taken without a person on the opposite side of the subject immediately bringing up some evil or series of transgressions enacted by a president who they didn’t like, as if that somehow proves a point.
For example, by me saying “hey, I think that the NSA is overstepping its bounds…” there are bound to be immediate reactions of “well, where were you when this was happening during the Bush administration,” as if to say that my criticism of a particular government action automatically aligns me with a certain political party or person of that party. The attempt is to discredit my stance by assuming—ignorantly, I might add—that my stance was obviously different under the last administration.
This goes on in both directions, of course. Progressives, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans; members of all parties attack the followers of the other for hypocrisy, either real or perceived.
Sadly, most of these attacks seem to focus on who is sitting the White House at the time of any given event. When President Bush was in office, those on the left side of political thought believed that wire-tapping and foreign wars were the epitome of evil. Now that President Obama holds the seat, they are relatively quiet. Conversely, spending federal money was seemingly not that big of a concern by Republicans between 2001 and 2008, yet now has become their cause de resistance.
A great deal of this has occurred due to what I call “the cult of the presidency.” Many people, at their core, desperately want a king. They want a guy who will take charge, make the hard decisions, and just bypass all the bureaucracy to fix everything. As a result, they are somewhat blinded to the evils committed by whoever fits their version of “the guy” and have a magnifying glass to amplify all the problems of those in opposition to their guy.
All of this ignores reality, of course, in two primary ways. Number one, people are imperfect and therefore no one—not even Chuck Norris—would get everything right if they were in the White House.
Number two—and more importantly—it rejects the whole premise of how the United States and its system of government was designed: by rule of law, not people.
But we as a people have gravitated toward this Cult of Presidency, believing that whoever sits in that office will either fix or ruin everything—that the man in the White House is either a savior or destroyer. We hold the man up or tear him down based on a misguided notion of what government is or should be.
The reality that we all know at some level is that government is much messier. Yes, the Presidency—and I mean the office, not just the guy there now—has far overstepped their authority numerous times. This is not because of some massive conspiracy against the American people, but rather because we have, at a number of levels, wanted it to happen. We have placed so much importance on the office of the Presidency that it has grown to be what a great many Americans always feared it would be—the imaginations of the populace have become a reality.
This must be remembered in light of these “scandals” we see popping up quite regularly. Forget who is in the White House and forget their party affiliation; remember well what the laws that our country is based on say and whether or not those are being broken.
This is how our country was formed and, if it should continue to exist, how it should be run now.