A Shocking Outbreak of Intellectual Consistency

As soon as an issue like the NSA surveillance comes along (and by the way, it needs a name—BigDataGulp, perhaps?), we immediately start hearing charges of hypocrisy. When a Democratic administration does something normally associated with Republicans, we've come to expect everybody to give their partisan affiliations precedence over their prior substantive beliefs, and switch sides. So liberals should now be fervently defending the government's right to see who you called and read your emails, and conservatives should be decrying the expansion of the national security state. And most of all, everyone should be accusing everyone else of hypocrisy.

But weirdly enough, though there are some charges of hypocrisy, actual hypocrisy is in relatively short supply, outside of a few isolated cases here and there. I've spent the morning going around to websites of various political stripes, and amazingly, most commentators seem to be taking the same positions they did on this matter during the Bush years. Yeah, there are a few buffoonish conservatives like Michelle Malkin who will go on Fox News and say they're shocked, shocked, and what Barack Obama is doing is far worse than anything George W. Bush did, and there are some Democratic members of Congress defending the program (but they all voted for it when they supported the Patriot Act, don't forget). But on the whole what you're seeing are liberals and libertarians criticizing the NSA surveillance, just as they did when Bush was president, and conservatives sort-of defending it.

The whole thing is leaving some people unsure of what to say. For instance, on the Weekly Standard's website, I could only find one tiny blog post about the issue, and that post was nothing more than an excerpt from a press release from the Director of National Intelligence, offered without comment. National Review is paying more attention (see here or here), but in a remarkably restrained tone. Even Jonah Goldberg takes a break from berating liberal fascists to say, "Is this bad policy? Just because Obama might be a hypocrite for employing the tactics he decried when his predecessor used them, it doesn't mean he's wrong." The Wall Street Journal editorial page, never one to pass up an opportunity to criticize Democrats, defends the surveillance: "Amid many real abuses of power, the political temptation will be to tie data-mining into a narrative about a government out of control. Such opportunism can only weaken our counterterror defenses and endanger the country."

So some conservatives, at least, are not being hypocritical at all. They applauded the expansion of the security state when it was initiated by George W. Bush, and they're comfortable with it as it is continued under Barack Obama. It's fine to remind everyone that these are the same people who described a requirement to carry health insurance as the coming of Stalinist totalitarianism, but that doesn't make them hypocrites, it just means they have a particular conception of what freedom is, whether you happen to agree with that conception or not.

And liberals who support President Obama most of the time are hardly being restrained in their criticism. The New York Times editorial page is positively thunderous on the topic ("The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue"). The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson warns of the end of privacy. In fact, though I certainly haven't read everything, I haven't come across a liberal blog anywhere defending the policy.

Imagine that, a debate where most everyone is being intellectually consistent!

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