Obama Angry Pointing

Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP Photo

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During one of my political campaigns, I struck up a conversation with a woman from a former Soviet bloc country who, while recanting the horrors of communism, began to unexpectedly quiver and cry. It was an emotional moment for both of us and, although there were a number of people at the event waiting to talk, I spent an extended period of time with the woman. There is no better advocate for liberty and freedom than a witness to history who has been forced to live under the yoke of communism.

Imagine a place where only the government has the key that unlocks the door between the private self and the public self.

I think about that interaction often because it’s difficult for people who have always been free to understand the deep psychological trauma caused by living under communism. We all have a “private self” and a “public self.” It’s no secret that we all act and communicate differently  when we are alone or in a setting with people with trust. In a free country, the decision to transition from that private self to the public self is largely within the control of the individual. When a free man or woman is home spending time with family he or she inhabits the private self. Typically one transitions to a public self when they grab the car keys and open the front door to head to work. There are things you may do or say while you were acting as that private self that you will no longer do or say at work, in your car, in an email, or on a business conference call.

Now, imagine living in a place where there is no distinction between the private self and the public self. Imagine a place where only the government has the key that unlocks the door between the private self and the public self. When I recall that emotional conversation with that woman at the campaign event, who had been subjected to the horrors of communism, I realized the psychological damage that an all-powerful government was capable of when it doesn’t recognize a private self. What must it be like to live under a system where your family, friends, and neighbors are encouraged, and even rewarded, for reporting on any of your activities which could be considered subversive to the government tyrants in charge? Having never lived in such a system, I can only guess at the psychological damage caused by living in a country where you are constantly questioning the motives of each and every person you come into contact with. Heavy government-surveillance ensures that you are never certain that you are really alone.

As a former federal agent, an activist for liberty and freedom, a father, and a patriot, it is this almost casual erasing of the distinction between the private self and the public self, right here in the United States, which frightens me. Governments rarely make liberty disappear in one clean cut; they typically bleed you out slowly. Watching allegedly conservative, liberty-loving, politicians and candidates defend the NSA’s metadata program—a program which collects private information transmitted by you as your private self—is beyond disturbing.

I’m not willing to sacrifice my liberty, or yours, for a false sense of security, Ironically, those defending this egregious, government-enforced evaporation of the line between the private and public self cannot provide any evidence of this metadata collection process intercepting even one terror plot. This doesn’t surprise me. Throughout my career as a federal agent who worked on a major counter-terror/financial crimes investigation as a member of a New York inter-agency task force, this is not how serious counter-terrorism investigators initiate quality investigations. Good federal investigations, which crack terrorism plots before they result in carnage, are put together by hard-working agents who spend their entire careers, not in front of a computer screen, but on the streets developing and cultivating informants and sources. These invaluable sources are typically developed through an immersion in the communities in which these agents work. Agents develop relationships and informant networks within these respective communities by turning low-level criminal “worker-bees” into sources of information to use against their higher-level criminal or terror overseers.

Being a true conservative requires a willingness to make the right decisions, not the easy ones. It’s easy to pander to the American people and promise them safety in exchange for small pieces of their liberty bartered away after each terror attack. But these trades are not only costing you control over the point at which the private self and the public self begin to overlap.  They are forfeiting away your safety in misguided attempts for quick, TV-ready talking points which are themselves designed to make you believe that there is some counter-terrorism magic-pill out there. And if you just allow the government to slowly place it in your mouth, and gently talk you into swallowing it, the pill will make all of the bad guys just magically go away.

Renegade Republican with Bongino

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