Casual Outrage

That cartoon provoked within me a very disheartening realization this morning, and I’m having a difficult time rebounding from it.

Kind of funny, if you ask me.  A good political cartoon has the power to cut through some of the noise and make a quick, sharp point.  And cartoonists aren’t the only ones making noise about the NSA.  Young Turk Cenk Uygur (if you have to ask who he is, don’t worry about it, just watch it) called Obama a liar HERE.

And even Stephen Colbert is calling Obama a tyrannical despot:

We’ve seen the pattern before.  A scandal blows up, gets fifteen minutes of coverage, and people move on.  Many of them never even hear about the issue at all.  So the fact that the NSA story is getting coverage like this is certainly encouraging.  So why did I get all bent out of shape?

It wasn’t the image itself that disturbed me, though the prospect of the government tracking our phone calls and watching us online is certainly outrageous, contrary to every idea of civil rights and liberty, and not to be tolerated.

The problem was that my reaction was “Heh, I’ve got to share that.  Good one.”

The image IS funny, sure.  And it really is very important to share these images that help distill down the tough political issues for people who don’t do politics 24/7.  But have I become so used to the government overreach that I’m not surprised anymore?  Have I become so scandal-weary after years of fighting the Political Class that nothing shocks me these days?  And if I can’t be shocked, can you imagine the reaction of the rank-and-file voters for whom this latest massive government overreach barely registers?

I’m disappointed that my reaction was so casual.  It may be that my outrage-meter is just broken, that’s certainly a possibility.  And I know people can’t run on sustained outrage all the time.  Sooner or later, they come down off the rage high and have to deal with other things.

Demonstrations of outrage and flowery speeches (and even belated Congressvarmint apologies) can’t by themselves change things.  Protests and angry rants allow us to vent; but the rules, policies, and laws still remain in place unless we do more.  We have to put the Righteous Indignation (as Andrew Breitbart put it) to practical use.  We have to start asking ourselves the following questions:

  • How do we increase the number of people who know about things like overreach from the IRS, NSA, TSA, EPA, and so on?
  • How do we personalize the issues to the lives of the less engaged?
  • How do we motivate casual voters to finally take action to stop and reverse government overreach?
  • How do we convince voters that these problems aren’t just due to the current administration, but that they are ingrained FEATURES of a massive government?

Another thing to consider: it’s easy to lose people on the civil liberties discussions.  (see question 4)  My theory is that seeing a government set up roadblocks and restrict movement (except perhaps in Boston) is far more likely to cause people to pay attention to civil liberties than something intangible like the government collecting tons of data on us.  The average citizen will feel the effects of a stop-and-frisk policy or a house-to-house search much more deeply than they will feel the NSA monitoring them quietly from a distance.  There’s something about the way government breathes down your neck in person that opens your eyes and focuses your attention.  And yet, the violations are no less egregious for being conducted out of our immediate view.  In fact, I argue that they are far more heinous.

And when you read the account of Ed Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who is currently holed up in Hong Kong, you may begin to imagine what I mean.  We can’t afford to blow off this scandal as just one more in the long line of government outrages.  We can’t wait around, hoping the election of the next guy will fix everything.  It won’t.  This is not the work of one administration.  It is the work of multiple years, of multiple bureaucrats, multiple systems failures.  It is also the work of our complacency and neglect.  I’ve been too casual about my outrage.  And if I have, I can bet most of you have been as well.  Have we really earned the label of “Radical”?

So we can yell and scold and protest and hold up signs for a while.  But what comes next?

Perhaps the most important question is: What are we willing to DO about it?