New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended the NSA’s spy program, making stupid remarks that are going to kill him come next year’s primaries. At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, both Christie and Jeb Bush said that the program didn’t violate civil liberties, but rather, helped protect Americans. This isn’t new, but the way that Christie put it has a lot of people—including some of his fellow Republicans—up in arms.
According to USA Today’s “On Politics” blog, Christie said:
These same folks who are criticizing us now will be the same people who will stand on Capitol Hill if there’s another attack on America and interrogate the CIA director and FBI director and ask them why they didn’t connect the dots, and not realize the hypocrisy of their actions.
Earlier this week, Christie made a more ridiculous comment, saying, according to The Huffington Post:
They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of ‘The Bourne Identity’ or a Hollywood thriller, and they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more. Let me be clear: All these fears are baloney.
It might be a bunch of baloney now, but there’s history showing that once a government gives itself the ability to quietly spy on some citizens without much cause, it can’t resist expanding that to eventually include all citizens. Do we have protections in place that could prevent us from becoming one of those countries where you have to watch everything you say and do, lest you be hauled off to jail (or worse) for it? Yes. Are they perfect? No. So, it’s just as ridiculous to think that can’t happen here at all as it is to think it’s happening right now.
Some of Christie’s fellow Republicans are upset with his defense of the NSA. One of the more outspoken is Utah Senator Mike Lee, who decried Christie’s remark about how hard it is to protect civil liberties from a coffin as “political pornography” according to Mediaite. Lee believes that Christie should be ashamed of himself for defending the NSA and the Patriot Act, and asked:
How many acts of terrorism have been thwarted simply because the NSA is collecting telephone data on what your grandmother calls?
We actually don’t have any hard data on how many terrorists, and acts of terrorism, the NSA’s spy program has stopped. All we have are claims, but The Hill reports that Christie says we’ve caught lots of terrorists, and stopped lots of terrorist acts, thanks to the Patriot Act and the NSA’s spy program. To be sure, the NSA is collecting metadata, and not actual phone conversations or anything else that specific. However, even metadata is exceptionally revealing, and the fact that they’ve been doing this with innocent Americans’ phone records is frightening, to say the least.
Just this month, a federal court ruled the NSA’s spy program illegal. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that the program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized,” and that the law “cannot be interpreted in a way that defies any meaningful limit.”
Christie’s defense of the NSA’s spy program and that provision of the Patriot Act is reprehensible for someone who allegedly believes in liberty. It feels slimy to agree with the likes of Sen. Mike Lee (and others in that crowd) on this, but there are times when they’re right, and they’re right about Christie here. One thing’s pretty certain, though: Christie won’t get very far in the Republican primaries with that position.