A topic like the NSA’s PRISM program should be a great opportunity for any politician to dust off their principles and make them known:
- It’s an issue that has affected millions of people and that can happen to just about anyone who communicates electronically.
- It’s unlikely that the practice will actually be changed.
- Even if making a statement about it would lead to some kind of action, it would arguably not be action that would require sweeping changes to existing policies, or that would require lots of funding and industry-sponsored opposition. You know, like addressing the austerity-idiocy, or actually doing something about anthropogenic climate change.
So it’s actually a bit depressing to me how in Germany, where an additional aspect comes into play in that it was a problem created by a foreign government that the German government has little leverage over, the reactions have been disgustingly predictable: the governing coalition claims that it’s not a big deal, the opposition attacks the coalition. As little as I respect our former chancellor Schröder, he did come out against the invasion of Iraq.
With this in mind, I basically expected the same behavior in the US – maybe even more so, given the obstructionist politics Republicans have pursued and the “circle the wagons” mentality this seems to have induced among Democrats. So imagine my surprise when Ars Technica brought to my attention that
an amendment that would have stopped the NSA from engaging in any warrantless collection of telephone data
was narrowly defeated on a 205-217 vote. Given that the 113th US Congress has only 201 Democratic representatives, this means that some Republicans must have voted for the amendment. Hell, given that there are some Democrats that are guaranteed to have voted against it (the afore-mentioned wagons), there might be even more than some.
And as Ars points out, this is indeed the case:
The amendment’s supporters came from liberals and conservatives alike, as did its opponents. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original Patriot Act, spoke in favor of the measure, saying that the NSA’s collection of domestic phone data had gone far beyond what he envisioned.
Opponents came from all political stripes as well. Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a voice from liberal San Francisco, voted against the amendment, as did Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a favorite of the conservative Tea Party. Current Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) voted no. The House’s final roll call shows supporters of the amendment included 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats.
It also shows people’s priorities – when Boehner and Bachmann vote against something and you vote with them, this probably puts you on the wrong side. When you have a reputation as a liberal or even progressive to boot, this probably means this reputation was ill-deserved.
As little appetite as I have for US politics, in comparison to the farce that played out in Germany (also w.r.t. the “stability pact”), this was democracy in action.