07.29.2013 2

Is Chris Christie a demagogue?

By Robert Romano

“I love all these esoteric debates that people are getting in… I want them [including Senator Rand Paul] to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.”

That was New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie’s challenge to anyone daring to question the 9/11 national security consensus among politicians in favor of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance program that is gathering intelligence on every single American, including phone, email, and other records.

Speaking at the Aspen Institute on July 25, Christie said “this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought.”

The issue, of course, is hardly esoteric. Nor is it hypothetical, or “intellectual,” as Christie put it.

The NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are in fact collecting all of these communications records on all Americans, as revealed in recently disclosed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court documents.

The surveillance is being done without probable cause or even suspicion of having committed a crime or planning an attack. It’s just being done — on everyone.

And now, because of the recent disclosures in the Guardian, everyone knows it.

Christie suggested that Sen. Paul would not sit down with the orphans and widows who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “They won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”

Paul for his part responded to Christie on Twitter: “Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.”

To be fair, Christie suggested there was room for discussion: “I’m just saying it’s not a debate not worth having.”

But, he added, “I think we need to be very cautious about how joyful we are over the idea that somehow we’re going to shift this baby way back because the next attack that comes that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people who are having this intellectual debate and wonder whether or not they put [at risk] what our first job is, all of us, is to protect the lives of the people we serve, and I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving.”

In other words, when people die, those who demanded fidelity to the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment in conducting searches will have blood on their hands. It won’t be the terrorists’ fault, but those who wanted to live in a free society without a Stasi-like “Big Brother” watching.

Other speakers at the governors’ forum at the Aspen Institute, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, and Indiana’s Mike Pence did not take the opportunity to disagree with Christie.

They might have, however, distanced themselves from the idea that following the Constitution will eventually lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans. As if opponents of the NSA and FBI surveillance programs have no point at all to make about questionable constitutionality of gathering intelligence on millions of Americans not suspected of any crime or planning attacks.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and requires that warrants shall only issue upon probable cause against individuals suspected of a crime. Reasonable people can agree that engaging in whole scale surveillance of an entire society goes far beyond that without calling those who want to keep a constitutional system “dangerous.”

The only thing dangerous is the consensus among politicians that the Constitution cannot be followed and have the government protect against enemies foreign and domestic. Christie apparently feels that, somehow, the only way to keep us safe is to spy on everyone. And if you disagree, thousands of people will die.

Christie may think this is a debate worth having, but the discussion by those who would rein in the NSA is only fueled by such shameful demagoguery as resorting to the use of widows and orphans as props. We can be safe and still follow the Constitution.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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