The Republican war over the Patriot Act pits libertarians against authoritarians

In 2013, an irritated Matt Drudge posted on his Facebook: “It’s now Authoritarian vs. Libertarian. Since Democrats vs. Republicans has been obliterated, no real difference between parties…”

Drudge was upset with Republicans who were siding with Obama in defending NSA mass surveillance and the administration’s desire to intervene militarily in Syria. The conservative Internet news king was despondent about the state of the GOP, writing, “Why would anyone vote Republican? Marching us off to war again; approved more NSA snooping. WHO ARE THEY?!”

It was a good question. Who were these Republicans going along with Obama’s agenda?

On Friday, Senator Rand Paul made national news when he blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act, arguing that Section 2015 still allowed government collection of all Americans’ metadata. Paul believes this practice violates the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment. Earlier this month, a top federal court ruled NSA mass surveillance illegal.

Many Republicans slammed Paul, believing the program should continue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused Paul of being a “misguided” libertarian ideologue. Bill Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard said, “Rand Paul has now decided he wants to be a liberal Democrat.”

A liberal Democrat? But in 2013, Drudge had called Republicans “authoritarians” for supporting Obama’s national security agenda. Now, Kristol is accusing Paul of being a Democrat for opposing that agenda.

What’s going on here?

Drudge actually got it right two years ago.

Saying you stand for the Constitution and liberty sounds good, and virtually every Republican says both. Saying you want to protect the country is admirable, and of course Republicans say this too.

But how does this rhetoric actually flesh out policy-wise? If Paul attempts to limit the executive branch or scope of federal agencies, his Republican critics essentially say these government powers should be unlimited. If federal courts agree, ruling NSA surveillance illegal or unconstitutional, Paul’s critics deem national security so crucial that the Constitution should be overridden. “People seem to have forgotten 9/11” complained Senator John McCain after the court statement against the NSA in early May.

National security Republicans never outright admit that they are for unlimited state power or against the Constitution, but instead dismiss protests that liberty is being threatened as the complaints of the naïve, “misguided” or even “liberal Democrats.”

In opposing the Patriot Act, Paul says national security is important but not at the expense of the right to privacy. His critics insist 9/11 changed all that.

In fact, hawks like Christie, Kristol, Senators McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton always cite 9/11 as the reason we must spy on citizens indefinitely, take aggressive military action perpetually, and should give the president more war powers than he’s even willing to give himself.

Paul was able to temporarily block the Patriot Act on Friday thanks to a number of Democrats. But there are many Democrats who side with national security Republicans.

As Drudge noted, simple Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. liberal doesn’t accurately label this current divide in our politics.

If the opposite of limited government is unlimited, and if the opposite of constitutional government is unconstitutional or anti-constitutional…

The opposite of libertarian is authoritarian—liberty can no longer be afforded and government’s authority must constantly increase to do what it takes to keep us safe.

Ronald Reagan warned where “government expands, liberty contracts.”

Authoritarian Republicans say: So be it.

 

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