Bob Barr

Public opinion of Obama and Congress are at all-time lows, due in no small measure to the miserable job both the Executive and Legislative branches have done to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. In fact, a Gallup poll from June shows the majority of Americans oppose the federal government’s dragnet snooping programs that collect private information about citizens not under investigation. Even the New York Times, typically a shill for the Obama Administration, notes what it calls “rapidly shifting politics” that started on the fringes of both parties but has spread into mainstream politics.

There is, of course, pushback to stemming the government’s domestic surveillance operations. However, this stonewalling is coming not from citizens, but from establishment politicians who believe the public doesn’t know what’s best for itself. For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Obama’s pal and a likely 2016 presidential hopeful, last week called the “strain of libertarianism” going through both parties “dangerous” to America’s national security and blamed Senator Rand Paul as its primary cheerleader.

Christie is right that Paul is one of the Constitution’s biggest and most vocal supporters in Congress, and we’re lucky to have him. But Christie is wrong in suggesting that a “strain of libertarianism” is infecting both parties. The support of civil liberties and the expectation that the government follow the Rule of Law hardly is a new concept to Republicans or Democrats. Even though it is clear that both major parties periodically have forgotten their duty to uphold the Constitution, Republicans, at least, have traditionally been the watchdogs of Big Government. What Christie sees as a new trend is simply the resurgence of constitutionalism within the GOP, and among many independents; it is a return to conservative roots where government is not to be trusted blindly when it comes to the privacy rights of American citizens.

This shift against government snooping augurs poorly for political elitists like Christie, Pelosi, and Obama -- public officials who feel they serve the interests of the State over the interests of the People. The American public is tired of limitless government data collection and the systematic abuse of civil liberties in the name of “national security.” Let us hope this trend is not just a fad or temporary strain of privacy activism but a wholesale change in how the public views government.

While Amash’s NSA amendment is defeated for now, Republicans should capitalize on the growing public support for intelligence reform and rebrand themselves as the party committed to the Constitution. Republicans have a unique opportunity to reclaim the high ground, but only if they tune-out the “sky is falling” squawking of the Old Guard and begin to make earnest reforms; not only regarding the NSA and IRS, but every federal bureaucracy.

Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.