If John McCain, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell, and the other Republican senators lashing into Rand Paul because of his efforts to force expiration of Sec. 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act had been alive and part of the debate back in 1775-76, they would have been blasting Patrick Henry for supporting Liberty. Colonialists McCain, Cornyn and McConnell would have been firmly in the Tory camp; defending the powers of the Crown to “protect” the colonialists through such tools as Writs of Assistance.
Today, in this 21st Century, the tools may have changed, but the foundational principle on which our independence was fought – a federal government of limited and defined powers -- remains the same; yet it is in far greater danger today than 240 years ago.
To McCain and other defenders of the all-powerful and all-seeing national security labyrinth that has mushroomed in the last 14 years, Rand Paul’s stand against permitting the National Security Agency to continue exercising a power to electronically surveil American citizens’ private communications without reasonable cause – an abuse a federal Court of Appeals already has ruled to be unlawful -- is “reckless” and a threat to America.
These modern-day Tories might as well champion the words of ol’ King George III, who characterized his benevolent tyranny thus: “I wish nothing but good; therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel.”
And what has this “scoundrel’ Rand Paul done? Dismantle the NSA? Destroy the power of the Intelligence Community to monitor real threats? Take away the ability of the CIA to conduct legitimate covert operations? Hardly.
All Paul has done to earn the enmity of the “Anything-It-Takes-to-Make-Us-Safe” caucus in the Senate is to try and reform Sec. 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act to bring it in line with the law and the Fourth Amendment.
Moreover, it is not as if the federal government does not have, and would continue to have, a full arsenal of tools at its disposal to identify, monitor and thwart real terrorist threats. And already moves are afoot openly – and quietly – to ensure that during this interim period when Sec. 215 is at least formally in limbo, those communications that pose a threat and are worthy of monitoring, are in fact monitored.
It would be naïve indeed to think the massive surveillance apparatus at the NSA is at a true standstill after years of abuse justified by the government’s broad interpretation the USA PATRIOT Act’s provisions. Already, there are attempts to weaken the USA Freedom Act – which passed the House last month and places at least some limits on Sec. 215 abuses. For example, Senate surveillance hawks want to keep secret the rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that has, unshackled by public knowledge or input, shaped how and what information the government collects on American citizens. Other proposals include extending the time the government is allowed to collect bulk phone metadata before handing over control of databases to telecom companies; and requiring the companies to give government advance notice of any changes to their retention policies. This latter provision would give Congress time to enact legislation prohibiting such changes if believed to hamper the government’s snooping efforts.
Of course, even such moves by McConnell and other Rand Paul-bashers do not soften their disdain for the junior Senator from Kentucky. McConnell continues to fume at Paul’s refusal to “play nice”; and he stopped just short of naming Paul directly when accusing the opposition of leading “a campaign of demagoguery and disinformation launched in the wake of unlawful actions of Edward Snowden.”
McCain – never one known for congeniality or subtlety -- has taken an even lower road, in accusing Paul of putting “a higher priority on his fundraising and his ambitions than on the security of the nation.” Not that McCain would ever use “national security” as a fund-raising theme.
Threats to American freedom are nothing new. And our Founding Fathers understood that if Liberty was to have enduring life, limitations on government power must be made permanent and not allowed to fade depending on the nature of a particular threat. Thus, our Founders chiseled the Fourth Amendment into the bedrock of our young nation even as we faced a very real and present threat from our former master, Great Britain – an enemy far more powerful than modern-day terrorist organizations.
It is depressing in the extreme that these lessons – this history – have now been forgotten and blithely discarded by so many of our political “leaders” more concerned about restoring the powers of the Crown than protecting the Liberty of the individual.