The Corner

Reason and Me

In recent days, writers for the libertarian magazine Reason have taken a few shots at me (here, here, and here) for my alleged misdeeds of ten years ago. (And here I thought Eliot Spitzer had a long memory.) They say that I bashed Reason for saying that the Patriot Act authorized spying on the web browsers of innocent Americans, that time has proven them right and me wrong, and that the whole saga illustrates the general truth that only libertarians are trustworthy analysts of threats to freedom, everyone else being a rank partisan.

The Reasoners think that all of this is so self-evidently correct that they haven’t spelled out which of the following two views they take: 1) The Patriot Act authorizes everything the NSA has been doing, for example treating all telephony metadata involving U.S. phone numbers as a business record relevant to the investigation of terrorism. 2) The Patriot Act does not authorize what the NSA has been doing, but this abuse was foreseeable and the law should therefore not have been passed.

If Reason takes view No. 1, then I don’t see how recent events have proven its case at all. I don’t think the NSA surveillance program is authorized by statute, any more than Representative Jim Sensenbrenner does. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seems to me to have stretched the law beyond any plausible reading of it. If Reason disagrees, then I oppose the program for one more reason than it does.

If Reason takes view No. 2, on the other hand, it’s not clear what its beef is with me. My back-and-forth with writers for Reason ten years ago had nothing to do with a potential-for-abuse argument; it was about what the text of the Patriot Act authorized.

I thought some of the articles in Reason ten years ago made provisions of the Patriot Act seem worse than they were, and wrote as much. That doesn’t mean, as Reason editor Matt Welch would have it, that I’m “a surveillance-state enthusiast.” I’m not a fan of the kind of all-or-nothing thinking about civil liberties and national security that his comment exemplifies. But I’m against what the NSA has been doing, and have written that too. I’d be perfectly happy to be an ally of Reason on this question, if it’s willing to quit trying to settle scores so old it doesn’t remember them clearly.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
World

Present at the Demolition

Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren't in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic ... Read More
World

Present at the Demolition

Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren't in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More