The NSA Snooping Doesn’t Make Obama a Hypocrite. It Makes Him a Politician.

President Obama speaks about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the Fairmont Hotel on June 6, 2013, in San Jose, Calif.

Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul and Sean Hannity are deriding President Obama’s “hypocrisy” for allowing the National Security Agency to collect data on millions of Americans through its telecom and PRISM programs. But Obama isn’t a hypocrite—not on this particular issue, at least. As a senator and candidate for president, he emphasized what he didn’t like about President Bush’s wiretapping program—its lack of oversight—while glossing over the fact that he nonetheless supports broad citizen surveillance in the name of combating terrorism.

As civil liberties buffs like Glenn Greenwald have been reporting for years, this is vintage Obama. Read this blog post by Greenwald from July 2008:

The new FISA bill that Obama supports vests new categories of warrantless eavesdropping powers in the President (.pdf), and allows the Government, for the first time, to tap physically into U.S. telecommunications networks inside our country with no individual warrant requirement. To claim that this new bill creates “an independent monitor [to] watch the watchers to prevent abuses and to protect the civil liberties of the American people” is truly misleading, since the new FISA bill actually does the opposite – it frees the Government from exactly that monitoring in all sorts of broad categories.

Yes, Obama vaguely promised to ensure civil liberties and prevent executive overreach, but he also openly praised the FISA court system—the secret court system that gives the government the power to collect data on millions of people without them knowing—as an exemplar of oversight. He voted for the Patriot Act reauthorization in 2005 and the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, which he originally opposed. So his stance on surveillance may have made him a hypocrite back in 2008, but that statute of limitations expired long ago. Calling Obama a hypocrite doesn’t give him the dubious distinction he’s earned: as one of the more unapologetically hawkish presidents in recent history.