I’m no expert at political radiography, but I think I am seeing something novel in this X-ray I am holding. It’s a radiographic image of the GOP, and if you look closely, just behind the elephant’s skull, you can see the dimmest suggestion of a nascent backbone.
What I am referring to is the non-binding resolution passed by the Republican National Committee on Friday, January 24th, 2014 at its winter meeting. This resolution, officially termed the “Resolution to Renounce the National Security Agency’s Surveillance Program,” gives me tremendous hope not only for the future of the Republican Party but also the future of our magnificent country. For the first time, the RNC denounced the President’s unconstitutional NSA surveillance program and called on Republicans to establish a special committee to ascertain the full breadth and depth of domestic spying and hold accountable those individuals who are responsible for it.
The resolution begins by describing how the surveillance program Prism works. As we should all know by now, Prism records the metadata associated with Americans’ phone calls and monitors their Internet use. Metadata is, of course, all the information associated with a phone call other than its content: who called, who was called, where and when the call happened, and the length of the call. The resolution correctly states that this collection of metadata is both a violation of the right of free speech as expressed in the 1st Amendment and the right of privacy expressed in the 4th amendment.
Having established the essential unconstitutionality of the Prism program, the resolution goes on to explain that the program exists because it relies on an “unbounded interpretation” of a particular section of the Patriot Act, Section 215. Section 215 permits the government to collect “tangible things” – yes, that’s really the noun used – via the use of secret court orders. Section 215 is the legal loophole the federal government uses to justify its collection of metadata and Internet users’ browsing habits.
So the resolution exhorts Republican lawmakers to “enact legislation to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act” in order to “make it clear that the blanket surveillance of the Internet activity, phone records, and correspondence – electronic, physical, and otherwise – of any person residing in the US is prohibited by law.” Also targeted for amendment by the resolution are the state secrets privilege and the infamous FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The state secrets privilege is a nasty little law that permits the federal government to withhold from legal proceedings any evidence that might threaten national security. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (extended for another five years in 2012), largely minimized the role of the FISA court in overseeing electronic surveillance; that is, it reduced the court to little more than a rubber stamp used to give legitimacy to blatantly unconstitutional acts by the federal government.
It remains to be seen what Republican apologists for big government like Chris Christie and Karl Rove think about the RNC’s non-binding resolution. Perhaps they are remaining silent in light of the fact that it was “passed by an ‘overwhelming majority’ by voice vote,” according to Time Magazine, or because “no RNC member rose to speak against the resolution.”
Real conservatives know on what side their bread is buttered.
For several months now I have been howling in the pages of Newsslinger that the GOP would be well-served by refocusing its brand on the traditional tenets of American conservatism: small government, privacy, and opposition to foreign entanglements including military adventurism. It appears that the RNC is in at least partial agreement with me, and just in time: domestic spying will be a huge issue in the next two elections and probably for some time after that. Republicans are wise to be getting their ducks in a row now when it comes to messaging about the NSA. When the average American voter automatically equates a vote for the GOP with a vote against Big Brother, we will have done our job of messaging very well indeed. The electorate needs to understand that a choice between the Republicans and the Democrats is a clear choice between a party that is united in its defense of the Bill of Rights and a party that is not.
As for the Republicans who are yet too timid to denounce Prism and champion the kinds of reforms outlined today’s RNC resolution, their days are numbered anyway. The conservative electorate is tired of candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney whose actions on the campaign trail remind me of an old Marx Brothers joke: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Consider these statistics: in a December 2013 Washington Post poll, 48% of conservatives said that they were “very concerned” about the collection of metadata by the NSA, and another 29% were “somewhat concerned. For you math whizzes out there, that’s 77% of all conservatives, not including another 12% who are “not too concerned.”
Privacy is important to conservatives these days. Opposition to the NSA could be the glue that unites the warring factions of the Grand Old Party.
I would like to personally congratulate chairman Reince Priebus and the rest of the Republican National Committee on taking a brave stand against King Barack Obama and his cynical supporters. This country survived the Civil War. It survived the Nazis. It survived hair metal. We will survive the reign of Barack Obama and someday the constitutional principles upon which this country was founded will again be the law of the land and not just wise words to be quoted by law professors.
I hold in my hands an X-ray depicting the GOP’s emerging spinal fortitude. What could be next?
Thomas Davis – NEWSslinger Contributor