President Obama spoke on Jan. 17 to quell the country’s fears of domestic spying and internet surveillance brought on by Edward Snowden and his National Security Agency revelations, but in the end, he inspired little faith that he would take power back from the top-heavy, national security state.
His remarks were broad, and his policy suggestions were vague, laden with loopholes, and they included language so vague that it could be twisted to mean anything. To regain the trust of the American people, lost since the Snowden leaks began, Obama will need to make big, bold moves in his final few years as president to curb the reach of the NSA.
According to the Pew Research Center, confidence in Obama is so low on the subject that 73 percent of Americans believe his security reforms will make no difference in the current situation.
Obama even shows he either lacks confidence in himself on the issue or the will to do anything about it. His speech on NSA reforms was relatively low-key compared to those he has given in the past, and the choice to give it on a Friday night, going into the weekend when many tune out of what’s going on in the world, shows that perhaps he was hoping fewer people were listening.
Maybe Obama is simply doing just enough to pacify the American people? Giving a speech where he calls the national security debate an important one, offering up some half-hearted reforms, works often when the public discourse needs to be changed, a tactic that seems almost as Orwellian as the current secret security practices themselves.
Obama doesn’t want to change anything about the NSA. He doesn’t want to have this debate. If he did, Snowden wouldn’t be hiding out in Russia, and the U.S. government wouldn’t find it necessary to track him down in order to jail him forever in an attempt to silence him and keep what he knows from making it to American ears.
Something tells me there’s more to the situation than just Obama’s unwillingness to move on the issue, however. It’s been 53 long years since President Eisenhower gave his infamous speech, warning of the dangers of the military industrial complex and the terror of a national security state. Presidents since haven’t taken steps to curb the growth of that state, though. Instead, they have let organizations like the NSA, FBI and CIA run wild, doing whatever they please both abroad and in the United States.
The difference is, Obama was the president of government transparency and accountability. He hasn’t brought either to the table yet. Despite strides made in health care reforms and the turnaround of the worst economic conditions in the U.S. in decades, Obama has much to lose if he refuses to tackle concerns about the NSA. Despite his wishes, the American people will remember this, and it will tarnish his presidential legacy.
Dylan Lajoie, aka Pickles, is a senior political science major with a concentration in international relations.