Monday, June 10, 2013

Two to Tango

When evaluating the various “scandals” dominating the news cycle these todays it’s important to be able to differentiate between them and define what is truly scandalous and what is not. In one way or another, they all involve two key elements:

1. Government power-This is the authority that we’ve given to the government-either implicitly or explicitly-to collect data, conduct investigations, grant approvals, etc.

2. Abuse of said power (self-explanatory)

All but the most delusional of Democrats now admit that there was some level of abuse of power in the IRS case. It remains unclear whether the abuse was merely the conduct of low level “operatives” in Cincinnati, sanctioned by higher ups in the IRS in DC, or even at the direction of person or persons within the Obama Administration. But that abuses of power did occur is abundantly clear.

This is not the case with anything we’ve learned so far about the NSA activities. There’s no doubt that the NSA has a great deal of power to collect data and monitor communications. Whether this power has been granted to them without the proper amount of public debate, oversight, and transparency is open to argument. As is the question of whether the government really needs that power to prevent acts of terrorism. We should by all means be willing to discuss and debate the merits of both sides on these matters.

But we should conflate the potential for abuse with abuse itself. Nothing that has emerged so far indicates that the NSA abused its power or used the data it collected for purposes other than to prevent terrorist acts. Until evidence of abuse of power is presented we should not try to lump the NSA controversy in with the ISR story. Doing so only distracts from the real heart of the former which is a debate about how much power the government should have to protect us from terrorist enemies and diminishes the importance of the latter which is a stunning story about government power being abused to punish political enemies. One is about policies-right or wrong-while one is about people acting wrongly on behalf of the government and others being wronged as a result.