By L&T Publisher Earl Watt
The recent revelation that the government of the people, by the people and for the people is keeping a watchful eye on who we call and how long we talk has resulted in what most issues these days do, two sides blaming the other.
Edward Snowden was a contractor for the U.S. government and was part of the intelligence gathering. He did not believe his actions were appropriate, or that the information he was being asked to gather had anything to do with national security.
So, he shared his concerns with the media, and we all became aware that Verizon customers were being targeted. Estimates are that nearly a third of all Americans were having their phone records gathered, all in the name of national security.
The question then became, was Snowden a hero or a villain.
According to the Department of Justice, he is a villain who has put Americans at risk.
To those who are appalled that the government is digging in to our personal lives, he is a hero.
As with most issues, there is probably not a black or a white here, but several shades of gray, and in peeling back the layers we get a better picture of why this issue helps us define the role of government and the responsibilities of handling sensitive information.
By itself, it would have appeared that this person was seeking the limelight.
But this is not an isolated incident in the appearance of a heavy-handed government.
After an inflammatory anti-muslim video was shown last year, the filmmaker was arrested by federal agents on “probation violations.”
Those who wanted to speak about what happened in the Benghazi attacks were told their careers were in jeopardy.
These people are called whistleblowers, and there are laws that protect people who are willing to come out and share what they believe are abuses.
If we do not protect whistleblowers, there would be those who would never come forward when they see company books being manipulated, or bribery, extortion and many other crimes.
People have to believe they will not be wrongfully prosecuted by coming forward when they believe it is necessary for justice to prevail.
But this adminstration has made life extremely difficult for those who are trying to do the right thing.
There are times when national security can trump the public’s right to know. Sharing plans to military installations, for example, or precise locations of our arsenal around the world is not necessary for the public to keep tabs on its government.
But when Congress is not aware of a full third of the United States having its phone records being gathered, there is a problem.
And it’s not a small ticky-tack problem.
It is huge.
It comes back to the definition of the role of government in our lives.
The growing trend in America since the 9/11 attacks is that we might need some more government in our lives for our own protection.
Bill Clinton declared the “era of big government is over” during his term as president, and yet we have seen a reversal since.
With the economic downturn in 2008, voters sent leaders to Washington who wanted more government intervention to stem off a financial crisis and provide social programs.
That mentality permeated, and sent a signal to the entire government that they were entitled to have more oversight.
Big Brother that liked those that believed in government involvement were shown favor, and those who believed in less government intervention became targeted as the enemy.
From the IRS to the DOJ, political philosophy started to enter into civil service, something that had been avoided.
As reporters are having their phones tapped, Tea Party groups are being harassed for creating their organizations, and a full third of the country’s phone lines are being tracked, the country continues to be evenly split on the issue.
According to Real Clear Politics earlier today, President Barack Obama’s job approval stands at 47.1 percent approving, and 47.4 percent disapproving.
Much like fuel prices doubling since Obama became president, and we all have accepted that as the “new normal,” it seems that trust in the government is also at an all-time low, and that, too, seems to be acceptable to at least half of the American people.
We simply assume that government is corrupt, and it is supposed to be that way.
That’s a shame.
In an interview after resigning the office of the presidency, Richard Nixon said, “I just hope I haven’t let you down,” that said it all. I had: I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt and the rest.”
This is the damage being done now. Our young people are getting the wrong idea of government and serving in it.
Nixon had the courage to admit his role in hurting the credibility of government.
Will that happen today?