Has the Obama administration EARNED our trust on phone metadata harvesting?

Let us imagine a world where the following occurred*:

  • 2008 – 2013: Barack Obama accepts public financing for the election, promptly closes Gitmo, and rigorously avoids raising taxes of any kind on the middle class. Just to not-really-randomly pick three of his campaign promises.
  • 2009: Barack Obama secures the formal appointment of Inspector Generals at Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor, State, and the Agency for International Development.
  • 2009 – 2013: President Barack Obama has regular, open press conferences, in the manner of his predecessors.
  • 2009 – 2010: A form of Obamacare passes that is acceptable to at least one Republican Senator.
  • 2009: A proposed loan to troubled Green energy company Solyndra is circular-filed when an advisor to Energy Secretary Steven Chu sits him down and explains to him that there was probably a good reason why the previous administration refused to sign off on the loan, and that the populace doesn’t really like having its money thrown away.
  • 2010: a particularly difficult worker at the IRS office in Cincinnati sends a series of terse emails to his supervisor, his supervisor’s supervisor, and the relevant officials in DC, indicating that written clarification of a new policy where conservative groups are to be under increased scrutiny will be needed before said worker would feel comfortable following that policy. The written clarification is not given; the policy is not followed.
  • 2010: plans to tell a federal judge that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator in a criminal case, and thus a legitimate target for a search warrant, are derailed when a Justice Department staffer reads the draft, blanches, calls her supervisor, and asks him to ‘read that draft again, only this time in a Republican voice.’
  • 2010: the murder of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry leads to an internal Justice Department investigation of the disastrous Operation Fast & Furious [program]. Attorney General Eric Holder responds by producing an unusually frank and open report on the fiasco, firing everyone responsible with prejudice, and takes ultimate responsibility for his department’s mistakes. Holder then arranges with Congress to expedite a replacement Attorney General so that he can resign respectably.
  • 2012: the IRS engages in a full and public investigation over the allegation that IRS officials leaked the membership list of the National Organization for Marriage to Human Rights Campaign. The investigation at a bare minimum wrecks several careers, and provides a salutary object lesson for the surviving bureaucrats.
  • 2012: the Department of Justice contemplates wholesale subpoenas of the Associated Press. This goes nowhere, because the combination of the terms ‘wholesale,’ ‘subpoenas,’ and ‘Associated Press’ in one sentence produces a feeling of anticipatory dread that threatens to take tangible form and savagely beat everyone in the room.
  • 2012: the ambassador to Libya and three other Americans are killed as part of an organized, planned Islamist attack. False initial reports that the attack was due to a supposed YouTube are later aggressively pushed back on by State Department officials; the President goes on the air and explains that the government is sometimes pulled in two directions by the populace’s expectation that it be simultaneously be both transparent and responsive. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes full responsibility for the deaths, and announces her retirement in the same press conference, after likewise working with Congress to expedite her replacement.
  • 2013: the personal assistant to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius coughs discreetly and points out to her that the legislative branch gets exceedingly shirty when the executive branch tries to fund its shenanigans outside of the standard appropriations process. A series of calls to various health care companies begging for/extorting (depending on who you ask) Obamacare implementation funds are thus not made.
  • 2013: Senator Rand Paul asks President Barack Obama, “Do you think that you have the right to order a drone strike on an American citizen on American soil?” Barack Obama says “No, unless we end up in some kind of nightmare Tom Clancy scenario and if that happens you’re probably going to be in the room with the rest of us anyway.” Senator Paul says “Thank you” and the confirmation vote of John Brennan proceeds on schedule.

So, imagine that all of this happened. Which is to say, imagine that the federal government during the Obama administration was operating up to roughly the same level of scandal and basic functionality that we had all come to expect from the Bush administration. OK? OK. Now, contemplate that the story had still come out that the federal government has been routinely requesting and getting Verizon’s (and other company’s) phone metadata.

Do you think that the government’s response/defense of Trust us would then be better received, or worse received? – Because I’ll be honest; when it comes to running the government in a scandal-free and non-disastrous manner this administration is notably inferior to the last one. George W Bush, I could trust with the metadata. Barack Obama, I’m not entirely certain he wouldn’t just accidentally send it all to Belize.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*I am well aware that the odds of some – or any – of this happening would dwarf the odds of getting hit by lightning while holding a winning Powerball ticket. So noted; it’s a thought experiment.


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