The Conversation

The Real Lesson of Paul vs. Christie: No One Cares What Hillary Thinks

Whether the topic is drones, the NSA or New York's stop-and-frisk--the entire nation is struggling to find its footing on the question of security vs. constitutional rights. While leading Republicans skirmish over the issue via the media, presumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton seems to be in hiding. What's truly noteworthy is that no one seems to care. 

During the Bush years this debate seemed to have an easy left-right division. Conservatives worried about security in wake of 9/11 and liberals worried about habeas corpus rights for Gitmo prisoners. That's oversimplifying of course but there was a clear division in place, one which candidate Obama exploited in his run for President. Remember, Obama wasn't only anti-war he was also anti-Gitmo, anti-national security letters and promised to be a President who would not trade off rights for security.

Six years later Obama is the President with a kill list (one which includes US citizens on occasion), Gitmo is still open and the scope of the NSA's data collection suggests Obama's view of national security has more in common with former President Bush than anyone might have suspected back in 2008.

Some conservatives, including Rand Paul, have staked out a position on rights that sounds a lot like candidate Obama used to sound. Rand Paul's filibuster over the use of drones was a political success and exposed the President's weakness on the issue.

In case you missed it, a high profile spat over these issues broke out between Sen. Paul and Gov. Chris Christie. If you strip out some of the zingers there is a security vs. rights battle taking place. Gov. Christie sides with the security wing of the party which believes the need to prevent further attacks outweighs any "esoteric" issues being raised by Sen. Paul.

Meanwhile, Sen. Paul is perhaps a bit closer to the national zeitgeist when he argues these issue aren't as clear for a lot of people as they once were. The right is traditionally concerned with excessive government power and Sen. Paul has been making the case that the use of drones on US soil or NSA data collection are worrisome episodes in this age-old battle. Of course it probably doesn't hurt that there is a Democrat in the White House who is left trying to defend these programs.

Kevin Drum provides evidence today that an equally rough political battle is taking place within the Democratic party over the same issues. Only there are no national figures providing opposite positions on the left. Instead, everything is focused on either attacking or defending President Obama. Drum writes:

If you express anything short of absolute condemnation of everything the NSA has done, your Twitter feed quickly fills up with hysterical proclamations from the emo-progs that you're a right-wing shill, a government lackey, a useful idiot for the slave state, and an obvious fool. Conversely, if you criticize the NSA's surveillance programs, your Twitter feed quickly fills up with equally hysterical proclamations from the O-Bots that you hate Obama, you've always hated Obama, and you're probably a racist swine who's been waiting ever since 2009 for a chance to take down the nation's first black president.

This happens with other subjects too, of course, but the Snowden files have brought it out more than usual. I'll confess that although the leftier-than-thou types have always been around, I've long been skeptical of the idea that Obama has a core group of supporters from 2008 who really do consider him The One, a shining beacon of light who could do no wrong. But I'm the one who was wrong. I don't know how many there are, but they're definitely out there.

In the midst of this maelstrom, presumptive 2016 front runner on the Democratic side Hillary Clinton is busy writing about her love of Downton Abbey. Why has Hillary remained silent on the grand issue of the day? It's good strategy obviously. Letting Republicans beat each other up in primary fights worked well for Democrats in 2012, so why not try it again?

But as the argument between Republican frontrunners drags on for weeks, the media has barely remarked on the silence of the Democratic frontrunner. Media bias is a possible explanation but I think the real answer is even worse for Hillary. Unlike Sen. Paul, Gov. Christie and even candidate Obama, no one really expects Hillary to contribute much to this debate. Her response, whenever it finally arrives, will be poll tested and bland, designed above all to preserve he electability. Hillary's silence may be shrewd but the media's silence about Hillary's silence suggests how little we've come to expect from her as a national figure.


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