This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
Barack Obama’s speech Friday on surveillance was his worst performance, not as a matter of theatrical skill, though he clearly did not embrace his lines, but in its stark betrayal of his oft-proclaimed respect for constitutional safeguards and civil liberty.
His unbridled defense of the surveillance state opened the door to the new McCarthyism of Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who on Sunday talk shows were branding Edward Snowden as a possible Russian spy.
Instead of crediting Snowden for forcing what the president concedes is a much-needed debate, Obama bizarrely cited the example of Paul Revere and the other early American rebels in the Sons of Liberty to denounce their modern equivalent. But the “secret surveillance committee” Obama referenced that Revere and his fellow underground conspirators established was intended to subvert rather than celebrate the crimes of the British-controlled government in power.
Somewhere in law school, Obama must have learned that the whole point of our Bill of Rights, inspired by American revolutionaries like Sam Adams, a Sons of Liberty co-conspirator, was to curtail government power as the main threat to freedom. Thus was Adams’s insistence on the Bill of Rights, including the Fourth Amendment, banning the warrantless searches that Obama now seeks to justify.
Obama had certainly acted as if he understood that when as a senator he railed against the surveillance power of the government. But now that he occupies the imperial presidency, dissenters like Snowden are the enemy to be hounded.
While modern town crier Snowden is judged guilty of a crime without trial, the folks in the NSA who have been spying on us are all depicted as honorable people to be presumed innocent, no matter evidence to the contrary. That includes James Clapper, the president’s appointed director of national intelligence who blatantly perjured himself in testimony to Congress.
When asked in March by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper lied and said, “No sir.” Then he added, “Not wittingly.”
Wyden, like Feinstein and others on the committee, knew instantly that Clapper had perjured himself, that the spying was quite witting, but he felt duty-bound not to let the public in on it. Wyden has the grace to thank the Snowden revelations for initiating a public debate, while Feinstein has from the beginning condemned the whistle-blower as a traitor.