A Modest Encroachment by Boundless Informant

A modest proposal to President Obama (and also all employees of the national security apparatus): Glad to hear you welcome debate, and of course you don’t like leaks.  And we the people, many of us, sometimes pretend to ourselves we can have security and privacy all at a low, low rate. But since, as you have said more than once, you are not running for anything again, and might just go Bulworth any minute–don’t let me stop you–how about an aboveboard debate on whether Ben Franklin’s famous thoughts on the false tradeoff between liberty and safety still apply at all. Isaiah Berlin wrote of the need for both negative liberty and positive liberty, cautioned against perversions of both, and anticipated without distress endless “haggling” over where to draw the frontier between private life and public authority: he could be a helpful voice as we sort through complicated issues.  There are a host of problems and issues worth talking about. But if you believe that we are only dealing with “modest encroachments” here, well, I have some metadata I’d like to sell you. How fruitful will a debate be if we cannot acknowledge that, unpleasant as it may be, neither our memories nor our judgments are entirely reliable. Why not give us your unadorned views as if you and your national security professionals were fallible and as if we were grownups.  Your oath to faithfully execute the office of President is explicitly to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. You know your job should not mean giving in to anyone, including Supreme Court justices, who see some amendments as absolute and others as flotsam. And we know the Constitution is not a suicide pact. But if your leadership of the national security state amounts to a continuation and intensification of the bad faith effort to make the President Commander-in-Chief of all Americans, our problems are really boundless.

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