Power Play

Democrats Flip on Domestic Spying, For Now

“64 percent”

-- The portion of Democrats in a new Pew Research Center who found the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs to be acceptable, up from 34 percent in 2006.

Whether you think Edward Snowden a hero, a traitor or something else, his very existence is proof of serious problems inside the national security apparatus.


If work such as his was tasked to someone of such a modest pedigree at a contracting firm, it is hard to imagine that this is the first security violation or that it will be the last. It seems more likely that this is simply the first one we have heard about.

In a system so expansive, abuse of power is the greatest fear. The phrase “turnkey totalitarianism” sticks in the mind. It’s not that one needs to believe that Big Brother is snuffing out dissent and “disappearing” opponents today in order to be deeply concerned about the state of things.

Mankind has survived nearly 70 years in the atomic era without killing itself off with nuclear weapons, but how likely is it that a power of similar magnitude as it relates to the lives of ordinary people will not be abused? Especially considering that this new technological power is deployed secretly and permanently, it seems very unlikely.

But so far, Democrats seem to be standing behind President Obama, despite his apparent betrayal of the principles that animated his rise to power.

The 30-point swing among Democrats on the subject of domestic surveillance since the Bush era, despite an expansion of the programs that have shocked even authors of the Patriot Act, suggests that Democrats were concerned not about the power of the government but who was wielding that power.

Republican support for scattershot domestic surveillance, meanwhile, has dropped nearly 20 points, suggesting a similar situational ethic about the programs. Certainly the move toward libertarianism in the GOP has something to do with the drop, but the fact that just more than half in the party now support the programs compared to nearly three quarters during the second Bush term tells us that the concern is in substantial part due to the deep distrust of the Obama administration. That can’t have been helped by a spate of recent corruption allegations aimed at federal agencies.

But what if the question wasn’t whether you supported the NSA under Obama or George W. Bush but whether you supported it in the hands of a Booz Allen Hamilton, 29-year-old systems managers and untold numbers of secret analysts sifting through the daily lives of the citizens they are tasked with protecting?

As Americans get to know Snowden and to more intimately understand the scope of the listening powers directed at them, one supposes the discussion will shift away somewhat from Republicans and Democrats and to the intelligence apparatus itself.

If J. Edgar Hoover could hold power in Washington regardless of which party was in the White House simply by holding a few dusty dossiers on the peculiarities and peccadilloes of the ruling class, how powerful would an agency be that was combing through and retaining the digital lives of a digital society?

Democrats are holding the line for Obama now, but as the vanguard of liberal intellectuals have already shown, public sentiment is liable to turn sharply against such programs, regardless of who is in office.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“If this had happened in the days after the inauguration of Obama in 2009, it would have been a lot less of a story because people had trust in the Obama administration, government in and the government in general.  And that's what I think is lacking, and it's poisoning the whole debate right now.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”  

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.