The Shrinking of the National-Security Right

by Mark Steyn

Under his other shingle, Andy McCarthy has a thoughtful piece on why the national-security Right is losing the NSA debate. He writes:

Most of the national-security right’s case has been devoted to the legal propriety of the program. After all, that is the part we know best, the ground on which we are most solid. A person has no Fourth Amendment protection regarding communications records that are the property of phone companies and other service providers. A non-American outside the U.S. has no constitutional protections at all. Therefore, the argument goes, what we’re doing is legal, so don’t worry about why (since why is too hard to discuss – see above).

This is very unsatisfying. First, the state of the law is widely unpopular, so being on the right side of it doesn’t help much.

That’s true. Many people understand that, these days more than ever, just because something is legal doesn’t make it right — and that a “warrant” for over 300 million people is not a warrant in any meaningful sense. Andy also makes the point that the NSA “metadata” is more stringently guarded than, say, your health records:

Another good and truly alarming comparison is the Federal Data Hub, revealingly reported on by John Fund at National Review. Unlike the NSA program, whose extensive safeguards are designed to make data more difficult for the government to peruse, the FDH is an Obamacare enterprise in which reams of personal information about Americans, far more extensive than communications data, is amassed for the precise purpose of making it easy for government bureaucrats to access under the guise of improving health care. And, putting aside that national security is the ultimate federal responsibility while health care is something the federal government should have no part in, the FDH data will be handled not by technically proficient intelligence professionals, as in the NSA program, but by “patient navigators” who will require neither high school diplomas nor criminal background checks.

That’s also true, but again what the suspicious get is not the distinctions between surveillance programs but the sheer accumulation of them: The NSA, IRS, and FDH all blur together as “the government.” The government is in your bookkeeping, in your e-mails, in your prostate. Had George III been that omnipresent, there would be no United States.

But the real reason why there are fewer defenders of their programs than Andy would like is the subject he tackles in his excellent books: the ideological faintheartedness of the United States. In this struggle, our enemies hide in plain sight, but Western governments will not confront them in plain sight. As I wrote here last month:

Because the formal, visible state has been neutered by political correctness, the dark, furtive shadow state has to expand massively to make, in secret, the judgment calls that can no longer be made in public.

And, in a broader sense, the national-security Right is a shrinking club because America has proven an ineffectual intervener. In Afghanistan, the Taliban support a bigoted, misogynist sharia state run by theocrats with ties to global terrorism, whereas America and its allies support a bigoted, misogynist sharia state run by duplicitous kleptocrats with ties to druglords and pederasts. That’s not a distinction worth twelve years of blood and treasure, and it has discredited the broader cause and its impositions on the home front. The Taliban will soon enough be back in Kabul, but Americans will be shuffling shoeless through the airports of Cleveland and Des Moines unto the end of time.