A key foundation to the Democratic position is the belief in citizenship as the cornerstone of a democratic republic. In other words, we believe that the government is "us" and not "them." And we believe that it is our job as citizens to put a check on the growing influence of corporate power via our collective actions through government.
In the context of our current debate about government surveillance, it is critical that we all exercise our duties as citizens to engage in the conversation about developing the right balance between privacy and security. That is what democracy requires. And it is exactly what President Obama was suggesting we do in his press conference last week.
I'm also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness, because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation.I don't always agree with Michael Tomasky, but he's one of the few people that recognized the historical significance of what President Obama did in that press conference last week.
It's the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.
As I was listening to these remarks, I kept thinking to myself about this paradox. No, they were not “bold and sweeping” proposals. At the same time, it sure seemed to me like this was the first time in my adult life I’d ever heard a sitting president propose checks on his administration that he didn’t have to offer. And Obama didn’t have to offer these. He was facing some political pressure, but polls have been pretty consistent in showing that a solid majority of the American public comes down on the side of what we might call controlled surveillance.It doesn't surprise me that the President took this historical step. Way back in 2008 I signed on to support him primarily because he has always been committed to revitalizing citizen engagement in the democratic process. He knows that in doing so, some of our traditionally liberal ideology might be compromised in the process of creating "the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will." But ultimately, that is what is required to ensure our foundational belief in the democratic ideal of "a government of, by, and for the people."
There was no mortal threat to his presidency here. Yet even so, he took a couple steps away from the imperial presidency. I think that’s the first time since the presidency became imperial—after World War II, more or less—such a thing has happened. And Obama was, as he claimed Friday, headed down this course before the Snowden leaks. Those began on June 5. But on May 23, he gave a speech at the National Defense University in which he foreshadowed the moves he just announced. Combine all this with John Kerry’s recent announcement that we have a plan for ending drone strikes in Pakistan, and you might have thought liberals would be cheering.
It is that ideal that has been under threat by the Republicans and Libertarians of our day. And as Bob Cesca so profoundly articulated today, it is challenged by the ridiculous notion that liberals should now appeal to corporate power to uphold our principles. In the article Cesca is referring to, the author provides this quote:
Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis recently wrote in The Guardian: "Technology companies: now is the moment when you must answer for us, your users, whether you are collaborators in the US government's efforts to 'collect it all' -- our every move on the internet or whether you, too, are victims of its overreach."Notice how the US government is portrayed as a "them" doing evil things that he is calling on corporations to protect "us" from. Regardless of your thoughts about the surveillance programs, the minute we concede the "government as them" argument, we've lost WAY more than our privacy. We've lost the democratic ball game.
So while I'm sure it's cool to have a secret White House meeting with President Obama -- I'm talking to you, Google, Apple, AT&T, and whoever else was in the room -- resist.