The revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in an information gathering operation affecting millions of Americans should have been shocking. This appears to be a blatant case of the federal government trampling on established rule of law in its quest to fight terrorism.
And yet most people with whom I speak seem unconcerned about the fact that the government has coerced some of the largest telephone service providers to turn over call records.
"Well, at least they are not connecting the collected data with individual citizens," is the usual sort of response to my queries.
The President insists that the domestic surveillance program is legal, necessary, and harmless.
"The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," he said today in his weekly radio address. "The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. We are not trawling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."
The President may indeed be telling the truth, and this program really might be designed to develop a database of typical telephone traffic.
The datamining efforts by the NSA, however, are just a portion of the gradual erosion of privacy in this country, which began long before President Bush took office. Once the door is opened to illegal acts by the government the precedent is set for future assaults on liberty, and members of both major parties seem all too willing to allow our liberties to be usurped.
An overzealous federal government, however, is only a part of the equation. The more important consideration is an American citizenry cowed into a state of fear.
Domestic terrorism. Avian flu. Rogue nuclear states. Moral decay. Illegal immigration.
These are but a few of the dread-provoking scenarios that have caused many Americans to retreat into their homes and meekly accept the latest news of the excesses of an increasingly authoritarian government.
The mantra of fear is repeated in every pronouncement made by President Bush and members of his administration. The vertical integration of fear into the administration's messages would make an fascinating study in mass marketing were the stakes not so high. From today's radio address:
The enemies who struck our Nation on September the 11th, 2001, intend to attack us again, and to defeat them, we must have the best possible intelligence.Fear of terrorism. Fear of avian flu. And most of all, fear of our own government. We live in a state of fear, and under a state of fear.
May God bless the United States of America, for the nation has never needed such blessing so much as it does today.