Don't just say 'spying'...

This is the second of two approaches to reframing the warrantless spying scandal. The first is HERE.

Despite the spreading concern over the NSA domestic spying scandal and the PATRIOT Act, President Bush and his cabinet are winning the political debate. When Americans of all political stripes protest the 'violation of rights,' the President and his team respond that these programs have 'saved American lives.'

It is time for all of us to stop tiptoeing around the issue and use better words to frame this debate:

  1. Secret Police ("...Bush has brought secret police to America...")
  2. Chilling Vision ("...Cheney's chilling vision reminds me of East Germany..."
  3. Fear Spreading ("...fear spreading to every corner of America...")
  4. Crack Down ("...threatens to crack down on ordinary Americans...")

These four phrases are not a critique of the ideas that Democrats have put forward in the past few weeks. Senator Feingold, for example, has focused attention on the problem of accessing 'library records' and the importance of 'checks and balances,' in addition to questions about the constitutionality of warrantless wiretapping. These topics are very important, but they are still too rooted in questions of policy to adequately frame the entire debate.

The four suggestions presented in this post, push the debate to a question of values and morality. 

President Bush's national security programs have been based on this metaphor:
[national security] is [keeping secrets]
From this basic metaphor, the President, Vice President and Attorney General have been arguing that the more information is revealed about the NSA domestic spying scandal, the less safe we are as Americans.

In fact, that is not true, but it makes sense to Americans listening to the White House PR because the metaphor of 'security=keeping secrets' has been repeated so many times.

An important initial step to take in this debate is for Democrats -- for all interested Americans -- to reject this logic of national security as equal to or depending on keeping secrets.

As all Americans know from history -- particularly the history of the Soviet Union -- when secrecy becomes the driving force behind national security, that means that the executive branch of government is most afraid of, not concerned for, its own citizens. The end result is always the emergence of what we call 'secret police' -- that is, a branch of law enforcement that operates below the radar of public awareness and which answers directly and exclusively to the power of the executive branch. The existence of this form of 'secret police' is always justified on the basis of an 'enemy' within the nation (see this brief Wikipedia article for more information).

What distinguishes 'secret police' from all other forms of law enforcement is that their power is always unchecked by the laws of the land -- a privilege claimed as an extension of the executive. And even though the primary function of 'secret police' is to control and intimidate what is seen as a dangerous citizenry, the executive branch always presents them as a tool acting in the interests of citizens. In fact, 'secret police' are the embodiment of the executive branch's fear of its own citizens and deployed exclusively against them.

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