Type to search

Republicans Only Oppose NSA When ‘Big Brother’ Isn’t Them

Entertainment Memo Pad Politics

Republicans Only Oppose NSA When ‘Big Brother’ Isn’t Them


Let’s cut to the chase: If Big Brother wants you, he’s got you, Act 215 telephone “metadata” notwithstanding. This disconcerting fact of modern life has been true more or less since the invention of the camera, the microphone and the tape recorder.

See the excellent German film The Lives of Others for details. The Stasi managed to collect vast libraries of gossip and slander against East German citizens entirely without computerized databases. It wasn’t people’s smartphones that betrayed them to the secret police, because they didn’t have any. Mostly it was colleagues, neighbors, friends and family.

Similarly, when J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI wanted to dig the dirt on Martin Luther King, they bugged his hotel rooms and infiltrated his inner circle with hired betrayers. Once the target was chosen, technological wizardry was secondary.

I am moved to these observations by the fact that the Republican National Committee has now joined the Snowdenista left in pretending to be outraged by something they manifestly do not fear.

The same GOP that rationalized torture and cheered the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretaps as recently as 2006 now denounces the National Security Agency’s “Section 215” bulk collection of telephone data as “an invasion into the personal lives of American citizens that violates the right of free speech and association afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Oh, and the Fourth Amendment too. See, keeping a no-names database of phone numbers called, date, time and duration threatens fundamental privacy rights, although actual wiretapping evidently did not. Never mind that Republicans in Congress approved it.

It’s easy to suspect that for the RNC, it’s all about who’s in the White House. The End.

However, there’s an equivalent amount of exaggeration at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Partly for dramatic effect, people talk about data collection as if it were equivalent to surveillance.

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate.

A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows.

Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

  • 1

You Might also Like


  1. disqus_ivSI3ByGmh January 29, 2014

    This is just like when the GOP favored a line item veto in the lead up to the 1996 elections, believing that Bob Dole would win the Presidency, then fighting tooth and nail against it when Bill Clinton won reelection as Unconstitutional. The real irony was the same people who led the fight to get it passed were the same people who led the fight to get it annulled!

    1. Michael Ross January 29, 2014

      Or, more recently, when Mitch McConnell filibustered his own proposal.

      The truth is that the G.O.P. has no actual policy beyond preserving the status quo and keeping themselves in power. This means everything they have done in the last twenty years can be sorted into two categories:

      1) Trying to rig the game in their favor.
      2) Political showboating.

      1. Independent1 January 29, 2014

        I would add one more to your list (and extend the years to 30 to cover Reagan’s 2 terms):
        3) Doing everything legally and even not legally possible to separate the American taxpayer from their hard earned money (by passing legislation that favors the rich and corporations and/or by starting wars to make it easy for government contractors to defraud the government (i.e., taxpayers)).

    2. Allan Richardson January 29, 2014

      After FDR won 4 consecutive terms (and, tragically, only lived to serve a few months of the 4th one), Republicans feared a Truman Dynasty, so they got to work on Amendment 22 (the last, when I was growing up). After all, they said, Washington started the two-term limit and every President since then had only served two terms. Never mind that World War Two was on the horizon and recovery from the Great Depression was not quite here yet when FDR ran for his third term (and the war was entering its climax when he went for a fourth). It just wasn’t “right” in their eyes, and “there oughta be a law” (the title of a newspaper cartoon that I remember). So they made the law to stop Truman, but it did not take effect until AFTER Truman left office, and the first President affected by it was … the Republican war hero Ike!

      1. Independent1 January 29, 2014

        It’s interesting that Boehner is now bemoaning Obama saying he will issue Executive Orders and claiming the GOP will be watching them closely and maybe even considering impeachment proceedings, when the number of Executive Orders Obama has issued (167) is dwarfed not only by Bush 2 with 291 but also by Reagan with 381 and even Eisenhower with 484; and there are actually 4 presidents with over 1,000:
        Teddy Roosevelt with 1,081; Woodrow Wilson with 1,803; Calvin Coolidge with 1,203 and FDR with 3,522; even Bush Sr had almost as many in 4 years as Obama has in 5 with 166. Where does Boehner think the GOP has a leg to stand on with respect to the EOs that Obama has issued??? The stupidity of the GOP never ceases to amaze!!!

  2. latebloomingrandma January 29, 2014

    The title of the article says it all.

    1. Sand_Cat January 29, 2014

      Except that Gene doesn’t seem to mind it at all.

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 29, 2014

    The way the current brouhaha re: spying is articulated and with all the hue and cry about what “Big Government” is doing, you’d think that this is a recent phenomenon(i.e., since the current sitting President took office).
    Never was there such discussion in the past going back to the FBI and the CIA in its clandestine activities re: Civil Rights leaders’ affairs and the discussions of Malcolm X and surveillance of his travels outside the country, for example.
    Where was the anger and everyday clamoring for accountability in the not-so-far-distant past?
    Surely, those shrieking the loudest are not naive enough to think this is only a new activity. And if they must bray so loudly, they should call to account both political parties, and all others in between or on the fringes.

    1. Independent1 January 30, 2014

      And it’s not just the NSA! When my wife worked as a telephone operator more than 55 years ago, it was common practice for the long distance telephone operators to plug in and listen to calls during slow call periods and/or when they were bored. Paranoids even here on the NM are so fixated with their chimeras that they can’t even think rationally. How in all the world would these people expect the NSA to be doing any serious listening to calls or reading emails when there are close to 300 billion on those sent within the U.S. every day. Over 2.5 BILLION phone calls and over 295 BILLION emails are sent in the US each day.

      No matter how many operators the NSA may have, there are just simply not enough of them to be doing anything other than to be focusing on SUSPECT COMMUNICATIONS!! What the paranoids even here fail to understand is that Google, Apple, Verizon, Your local phone company, your local store, the website you bought something from yesterday, knows more about what you’re doing and saying in phone calls and emails than the NSA.

  4. Sand_Cat January 29, 2014

    Gene, if you haven’t read Derrick Jensen’s Welcome to the Machine, you should. And you can call us “Snowdenistas” and otherwise deride us, and imply that we didn’t care when they illegally tapped phones, but you should “manifestly fear” what is likely to happen with all this data you seem to think so harmless.
    For a start, how do you know the NSA isn’t listening to the calls, or that they don’t when “national security requires it,” regardless of little things like warrants? The fact that they have the data at their fingertips gives them tremendous power, and “national security” must be one of the most over- and mis-used phrases in the language..
    The fear that “they might be listening” is a more effective form of control than actual actions taken against dissidents. other than providing a few examples.

  5. ThomasBonsell January 29, 2014

    It’s nice to read a newsman who seems to get it.

    Too many use words like “surveillance” or “spying” when there is nothing like that going on. The fact that Gorge W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretaps doesn’t mean that Obama is doing the same thing. After Bush’s crimes were revealed the laws were changed. There is no “collection of … mass data” or it “amounts to a government dossier on every individual who has a cell phone or a computer.”

    The program is “traffic analysis” and it only involves examining records to try to find what means of communication terrorist groups are using to try to avoid detection. There are no telephone conversations to listen to and no emails to read. It was reported just this morning that Snowden’s activities alerted terrorist groups to alter their means of communication to avoid detection. Anyone who can think had already known that would happen and those groups have enough intelligence to change their communication methods well before Snowden sold out the US; they can just do it more efficiently now.

    Traffic analysis has been used since the advent of electronic communications and was the method the British used to follow Nazi Germany communications in the early part of World War II that led directly to the defeat of Naziism.

    Now, people who haven’t the faintest idea of what traffic analysis is are trying to get rid of the tactic, and that would only allow terrorist groups to go undetected and send plans for attacks securely. And if any of those secret plans work, the very people who robbed intelligence of a proven tactic that worked would blame the intelligence community for failure to detect the plans.

  6. daniel bostdorf January 29, 2014

    Mr Lyons and poster “ThomasBonsell ….who paid you off? You don’t “get it.”

    Your faux semantical discourse is disguised as propaganda and the rationale for creating our current surveillance police state.

    You both think it is OK? You both apologize for the Patriot Act and it’s destruction of the 4th and 5th amendments to the Constitution?

    Mind boggling…

    “Too many use words like “surveillance” or “spying” when there is nothing like that going on.’

    What alternate planet are you beaming us this?

    “Traffic analysis” is supposed to make a wrong a right? It is a false premise euphemism (the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression ie doublethink) to deflect from the fact that “Republicans Only Oppose NSA When ‘Big Brother’ Isn’t Them”


    “Now, people who haven’t the faintest idea of what traffic analysis is are trying to get rid of the tactic, and that would only allow terrorist groups to go undetected and send plans for attacks securely.”

    Hogwash…what the NSA did was illegal. Period.

    Apologists for the surveillance police state are reprehensible at all levels.”

    “Republicans Only Oppose NSA When ‘Big Brother’ Isn’t Them….”

    Gene Lyon and ThomasBonsell do not oppose NSA when they are part of “Big Brother.”

  7. Rene Isaac-martin January 30, 2014

    It all boils down to hypocrisy and intimidation at its best. All we ask of the the top1% is to stop evading U.S. taxation–close their offshore accounts and pay their fare share of taxes, rather than perpetuate a system that hurts the middle class and the poor!

    1. danmurphy2011 January 31, 2014

      the tax laws are complex but i know people who make over $250,000 lose most deductions those of us below that level enjoy.
      The millionaires who put their money in municipals to fund our intrastructure are caught by The Alter Minimum Tax which penalizes

      rich people with large incomes from non salary sources. The concentration on the !% is really not the solution to help middle America do better. The problem is more complex and the solution would include a stimulus to save and invest like Myira. But risk has always been part of gain. There are no free lunches.

  8. danmurphy2011 January 31, 2014

    There seems to be a theme of resentment of those who make their money with a disregard for morality. I can sympathize with this feeling. But, as Pope Francis say ” who am I to just I am not God”. But we do judge. I have a long job experience deciding such issues. What is quality worth? How much does reliability count? What do you owe your employer who pays you? What does your employer expect of you or demand? .What do you owe your customers? We are a very imperfect lot with all the sins of being human.

    The NSA over stepped their mission. Congress as usual did not stop them from their zeal which has put this country in unnecessary, suspicious light.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.