Opposing the Patriot Act was once a progressive war cry. Today Democrats embrace the U.S. Security State more than ever

As the Left increasingly supports surveillance and censorship, the Right is more skeptical of government thuggery than ever.

After 9/11, a jarred America and Congress overwhelmingly supported and passed the Patriot Act with majority support from both major parties, believing increased government surveillance would help protect the country from another terrorist attack.

While civil libertarians of all stripes were in the minority in opposing the Patriot Act, the largest and most significant political faction that opposed it – by far – was progressives.

Progressives’ primary argument: The Patriot Act would empower the federal government to unfairly harass Muslims and minorities, but it would also target U.S. citizens overall.

The Left further denounced it as unconstitutional. During the 2003 Iraq War protests, one of the largest protests in history, opposition to the Patriot Act was a major part of that outcry. Being against the Patriot Act was part of what defined being a progressive during that era.

Patriot Act
Image Credit: Creative Commons

After the Patriot Act was passed hastily by Congress in 2001, four years later it still received majority Republican support while a majority of Democratic voters opposed it. From ABC News on extending the Patriot Act in 2005: “Extending the Patriot Act gets broad support from Republicans and a narrow majority of independents, but it’s opposed by just over half of Democrats.”

The loudest among those Democrats were undoubtedly progressives.

From Gallup in 2005: “Partisanship is a major factor when it comes to public opinion about the Patriot Act. More than a third (37%) of Democrats think it goes too far in restricting civil liberties, as do 4 in 10 political independents (40%) — but only 12% of Republicans think the Patriot Act goes too far. Most Republicans, 61%, believe the Patriot Act is ‘about right’ in trading off protection from terrorism with protection of civil liberties.”

Patriot Act
Image Credit: Creative Commons

But the Left’s views began to change over the years.

By 2011, Barack Obama was president and the anti-government Tea Party movement had taken shape on the Right. During that time, the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies warned about the dangers that homegrown “terrorists” supposedly posed.

A 2011 Pew Research Center poll showed that the number of Democrats who believed the Patriot Act was a “necessary tool” had gone up by 10%, from only 25% in 2006 to 35% five years later.

Today, Democrats are evenly split with half supporting the Patriot Act and half opposing it.

A Tufts University poll published in March 2021three months after the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitolrevealed that “44% of Democrats (24% somewhat and 20% strongly) support a new Patriot Act, while 44% of Democrats (22% somewhat and 22% strongly) oppose it.”

Conversely, “Independents and Republicans oppose a new Patriot Act, with 52% of Independents (18% somewhat and 34% strongly) and 68% of Republicans (22% somewhat and 46% strongly) not in favor of this idea.”

The dynamics of the Patriot Act debate have almost completely reversed from where they stood a decade ago.

From its inception, it was a majority of Republicans who trusted George W. Bush and Dick Cheney not to abuse these new powers and to keep the country safe, while progressives vigorously opposed it.

Now, more Democrats than ever trust the federal government not to abuse surveillance powers, and Republicans are the harshest critics of such power.

And it’s not just the Patriot Act specifically. It’s Democrats now embracing a stronger U.S. Security State and Republicans opposing this kind of federal power.

A Pew Research Center poll last year showed that nearly half of Americans believe the government should restrict “false information.”

That’s right: straight up, anti-First Amendment government censorship.

A 2021 Pew poll also showed that Democrat support for government censorship had spiked dramatically since 2018from 40% to 65% in support in four yearsand Republican support had plummeted during the same time period.

Which party views the Department of Homeland Security more favorably and which does not have now almost completely switched, with Democrats embracing views that were more popular with Republicans in the Bush-Cheney era and Republicans rejecting those views.

Progressive independent journalist Matt Taibbi has also commented on this phenomenon:

Republicans argued two decades ago that extremists posed such a threat that our basic liberty would have to take a backseat to national security. Democrats today increasingly have the same view, as they continue to paint Republican voters as fascists and potential terrorist threats.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, when you give up liberty for security, you deserve neither. 

This is something the American Left once intrinsically understood. Now it is they who fearmonger, losing all sight and memory of how true patriots should act.

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Jack Hunter
Jack Hunterhttp://LibertyTree.com
Jack Hunter is a freelance writer, the co-author of Sen. Rand Paul’s 2011 book ‘The Tea Party Goes to Washington’ and the editor of the libertarian news site Liberty Tree, published by Sen. Paul’s campaign.

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