Yesterday, I happened to hear David Brooks on NPR. He was asked about the huge NSA surveillance program. He said, “I’m somewhat bothered by the secrecy, but I don’t feel it’s intrusive. Basically, they’re running huge amounts of metadata through an algorithm. That feels less intrusive to me than the average TSA search at the airport. And so I don’t think it’s particularly intrusive. It is supervised by the court. It has some congressional supervision.” Okay, it’s Brooks. What’s the big deal?
Well, that morning, the Wall Street Journal editorial page wrote, “We bow to no one in our desire to limit government power, but data-mining is less intrusive on individuals than routine airport security.” I think it is interesting that Brooks is brought on NPR as a “reasonable” Republican and he just spouts the WSJ editors. Brooks is not supposed to be just some random politician; he’s supposed to be an independent thinker. But let’s leave that aside.
Jonathan Chait wrote a good article yesterday, Conservative Freedom Lovers: You’re Doing It Wrong, in which he showed the cognitive dissonance in the conservative movement regarding issues of freedom. For example, noted that Jack Welch is a-okay with the NSA spying, even as he claimed that Obama was secretly manipulating the Jobs Report for his own nefarious purposes.
Or consider Roger Vinson, who was one of the lower court judges who struck down Obamacare. He claimed that if the government could force people to get health insurance, it could force them to do anything. So he’s a big believer in freedom. Or at least certain kinds of freedom. As Chait noted, “Judge Vinson has reentered the news for having approved the National Security Agency’s program of collecting all of the phone records in America.”
This is an issue I talk about a lot: the tyranny of libraries. I first noticed this with libertarians. They argued that taxes to pay for libraries were as awful as taxes to pay for the military. The situation is far, far worse with conservatives. They argue that taxes that go to the military and spying only make us more free whereas libraries are some kind of communist plot. This puts history on its head. Autocrats do not rule by the force of their public libraries. They rule by the force of their military and secret police.
A common complaint of conservatives is that the Founding Fathers did not believe in a large government like we have. That’s true. I don’t think it means anything, of course. The world has changed dramatically and larger governments are a necessity. Regardless, the parts of government that the Founding Fathers most feared were the parts that conservatives proudly embrace.
Dean Baker often makes the point that on the economy, conservatives don’t want small government, they just want big government for the wealthy. It’s clearly bigger than that. In every possible way, conservatives want a big government to make sure that those with wealth, power, and prestige will continue to have it. As usual with conservatives, they don’t suffer from cognitive dissonance if you understand what their real goals are. And those goals are shared by “moderate” David Brooks and the extreme and shrill WSJ editorial page.