Last night, Fox News hosted one of the most ridiculous, deeply entertaining GOP Presidential debates I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing a drinking game to. In the midst of the Moscow Mules, Lagunitas and amazing Trump-isms came a pretty heated (and unexpected) shouting match between former Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul regarding the spying capabilities of the NSA.
The exchange really highlighted what advocates for reigning in NSA spying are up against, and if the applause from the crowd was anything to go off of, it’s a depressingly uphill battle.
Fortunately, at least, last night’s exchange should keep the conversation going.
The back-and-forth began when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked Gov. Christie to clarify comments he had made criticizing Paul’s stance on NSA dragnet surveillance. “Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?”
“Yes, I do,” Christie said. “And I’ll tell you why… I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day. And that happened in my state. This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day.”
Christie’s argument basically shifted here from justifying national surveillance on the basis of preventing terror attacks to arguing that Americans’s civil liberties actually were being “respected” by NSA surveillance.
“When you actually have to be responsible for doing this,” Christie continued, “you can do it, and we did it, for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland. And I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As President, that is exactly what I’ll do.”
I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans.
“Trust” is something I would imagine Americans should be pretty wary of giving to the NSA. The simple suggestion that citizens would trust the department to do the right thing after violating our privacy time and time again is almost offensive. And yet… applause rang forth from much of the audience, but Paul quickly interjected.
“I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans, the Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over.” Paul said. “I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.”
Christie was having none of it.
“You know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer: ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know?”
“Get a warrant!” Paul said. “Get a judge to sign a warrant.”
Things got frustrating here as Paul set forth an argument for reigning in dragnet surveillance and protecting the Bill of Rights, while Christie basically said that pontificating about things as abstract as ethics and precedents had no place in discussions regarding national security.
“Listen, Senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that,” Christie said. “When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure that you use the system the way that it’s supposed to work.”
Applause ensued. Paul went for some desperate cheap shots and Christie returned the volleys just as the moderators called time. The sideshow regarding one of the most important ethical discussions in our country was over.
You know, at least an NSA question popped up in this Fox News debate to keep up the conversation. It’s interesting that with the amount of right-wing privacy supporters that exist in this country, most GOP candidates are striving to pursue pro-surveillance positions, but I suppose “protecting American lives” has always been the easier absolutist defense while the speaking point of “civil liberties” may sound a bit too wimpy and liberal for most leaders in the party…