When the Bush administration pushed for (and passed) the Patriot Act, they knew exactly what they were doing. They seized on a time in our country where we were afraid, angry and distraught over what had happened on September 11, 2001.
It was the perfect time to pass something that on September 10, 2001 would have been opposed by the vast majority of Americans.
But even going beyond that, the Bush administration knew the Patriot Act was a political trap. It’s truly a no-win situation for any president or majority in Congress that might want to repeal the whole thing.
I’ve studied politics enough to know the fickle nature of voters. While many voters distrust government — or oppose it altogether — when disaster hits, government is usually the first thing they turn to. A great example of this would be Republicans who rally against “big government spending” and organizations like FEMA and FEMA disaster relief. These people are often the most vocal proponents against federal spending, and some of the politicians have actually voted against disaster relief for others, yet when disaster strikes their home, district or state—they’re often the first ones looking to the federal government for help.
For many, the government is a paradox. They’ll blame it for many of the problems in this country, then look to it when they want it to solve many of the problems in this country.
But what the Patriot Act represents is a true double-edged sword for politicians.
Imagine for a moment if most Democrats in Congress voted against, or President Obama vetoed, the Patriot Act this past January—then the Boston Marathon bombings occurred a couple of months later.
If you don’t believe the discontinuation of the Patriot Act would have been the biggest weapon used against Democrats and President Obama by Republicans, you’re insane.
Now I can already hear what’s coming, “But see—the Patriot Act didn’t prevent the attack so it’s useless!” And that’s true, it didn’t prevent the bombing at the Boston Marathon. But can those who point to its failure to prevent that attack prove that it hasn’t prevented others?
Hindsight is always 20/20 and that’s what makes the Patriot Act such a political trap.
If any Congress, or president, ended the Patriot Act, they would then open themselves up for potential political suicide.
A great example for this is the 2014 elections. It’s already going to be a battle for Democrats to reclaim the House, and get a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, but imagine if the Patriot Act had been allowed to expire and Republicans could use the Boston Marathon bombings against “those who made America less safe by ending the Patriot Act.”
Again, in hindsight its easy say that it didn’t prevent that attack, but we really don’t know what other attacks the Patriot Act might have prevented.
An example I’ve used over the years is this—if I told you the Patriot Act (in its 12 years) has saved over 10,000 lives, would your opinion on it change? But that’s the problem, we will never know if it has or hasn’t.
Now people like Rand Paul can stand and say loudly that they would never continue the Patriot Act, but I can promise you this—if he became President and in his first year ended this act, then an attack occurred a year later which took thousands of American lives, he would never be re-elected.
And that’s the trap the Bush administration knew they had put in place, after their national security failures led to the expediting and passage of the Patriot Act.
We can never know what has been prevented, we only know what we’re told or what we’ve seen. Details such as PRISM or the NSA tracking the phone records of millions of Americans that anger many and expand on the distrust of the government. The Boston Marathon bombing and the Patriot Act’s failure to prevent that.
These instances are great tools for opponents of the Patriot Act to use so they can show how we don’t need this legislation.
You see, we’ll probably never see a “whistleblower” leak out information about numerous attacks we’ve prevented with the information the Patriot Act has given us, we’ll only get those who want to expose some of the controversial behavior behind the bill.
So what’s a politician to do—especially a president? Sure, someone on a small scale like Rand Paul can stand against the bill because he only requires that his specific state vote for him, not the entire country. But on a national scale, judged by everyone, that’s a different game altogether.
It also exposes some contradiction within the liberal community. Many claim to trust and support the president, then turn on him when it comes to issues like the Patriot Act.
The way I look at it is this. In 2008 he ran on the promise of more transparency in matters of national security. Then he took office. His views since have moved away from that and more towards secrecy. Perhaps once he became president, and learned more about what’s really gone on, he realized his naive view from the outside wasn’t practical and there were threats he never knew existed.
So, do we trust President Obama or do we only trust him when he does what we want him to do?
Again, we will never know what really goes on—which like I said, is the trap.
Sure, we can make assumptions from leaks like those from Edward Snowden, but when you cherry pick certain things you can make anything look bad—and I’m always skeptical of people who only tell me the bad, without telling me any of the good.
Where in his leaks was anything positive? You mean to tell me everything he saw was bad? I highly doubt that.
So what’s the answer? The way I look at it is this…
Terrorist attacks are going to happen with or without the Patriot Act. You’re gullible if you believe it can stop every single one but you’re just as gullible if you believe it hasn’t prevented any.
So you can believe we should end the Patriot Act, and pretend that suddenly the government can’t snag phone calls out of thin air, track your location, know your internet history or get into your email account. See, personally I view the Patriot Act as window dressing. It’s just the government’s way to do what they’ve already been doing, with less fear of being caught.
I’m honest with myself enough to know that in a world of cloud based storage, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, cell phones, the internet, YouTube—our lives are now more easily traceable than ever. I don’t fear the Patriot Act because I’ve just assumed the government would do the stuff it “allows” for anyway. Maybe that makes me naive, but it’s just the way I feel based on individuals I’ve spoken to that have worked in national security or for the Department of Defense.
However, if you want to believe the Patriot Act gives the government power it never had before, then you must view it for what it is.
The Patriot Act was built to be a trap by the Bush administration for future politicians.
A bill that would end up being highly unpopular the more we moved away from September 11, 2001—but if we were to suffer a terrorist attack after its repeal, would destroy the careers of the politicians responsible for ending it.
And George W. Bush knew that would keep many of them fearful of standing against it.