Our nation remains a chaotic exercise in determining the viability of applying our democratic theory to sustaining our American values in an ever changing world. Keeping faith with our creed of liberty and freedom is no less at peril from without and within than in every era since its foundation. And just as in each age before ours, the protection and preservation of our freedom demands our attention and diligence. So the current contention over the Patriot Act’s renewal for national security interests and groups demanding the Act’s expiration to protect against government invasion of individual privacy rights. So the issue has been cast as a choice between privacy rights versus national security, the lines have been drawn, sides have been taken, and the struggle to win supremacy is underway.
But wait! This presents the issue as an ‘either/or’ contest, as if there is no way to accomplish both simultaneously. How exactly was this assessment and analysis made to reach that conclusion? Who decided that the areas of concern over privacy were unable to be resolved by a proper understanding of the requirements, constraints and goals of achieving effective national security policies and maintaining individuals’ information and data privacy from governmental intrusion or abuse by others? There is no “law of physics” that requires that security and privacy interests are mutually incompatible. There is no principle of democracy that necessitates that the government cannot fulfill both these duties in the service to the public.
Why then isn’t there a solution that provides for both public needs? What prevented anyone on either side of the conflict from solving the total issue, not just their side of the issue? It’s leadership, or more to the point it is a lack of leadership. Now there are many facets of failed leadership that are at fault here: organizational, commercial, technical, legal, civic, media, and the one that tops the list – Political.
The risk to privacy from government and thus the conflict are planted in the foundational aspects of our society, in its political fabric. So to fail in solving the issue in the nation’s best interests, it was necessary for the political leaders to be at the forefront of that failure, to be the leaders of failure and dysfunction. Nowhere was this inadequacy of leadership so prevalent than in Congress and amongst the group of presidential candidates seeking then ultimate in leadership positions.
Even in their insipid efforts to appear to be a leader the contenders for the crown have exhibited only their typical approach of picking a side that conforms to their media persona and strutting the peacock plumage appropriate to their media-mating displays. But these sideshow tactics are not the steps of successful leadership. Leaders will acquire the relevant and necessary information on the entirety of the issue; both the side they may be initially starting from and the side that they perceive as the problem, risk or threat. Effective leaders will organize their resources and assign trusted and knowledgeable individuals to formulate approaches and strategies to address the problems. Where necessary, good leaders will consider the recommendation(s) made from their organizations and choose the approach and strategy that they see as the most effective and beneficial in achieving their entities’ goals. Once a direction is selected the prudent leader will explain the decision; why it the correct strategy, how it will achieve the desired objectives and addresses all needs and contingencies, and how the strategy will be implemented and managed to insure that the goals are achieved and the requirements met.
This is not what we have seen with the Patriot Act renewal issue. Neither proponents from either side or any of our elected or aspiring public figures have stepped up to these responsibilities. This is not to say that some of them haven’t taken a position or demanded action, but they seem to be addressing only the side that they see as the one that is more important than the other, i.e., the choice of one side over the other.
In looking at the failure to pass a legislative act to authorize national security policy before the expiration deadline, what excuse will our leaders proffer? Those opposed to the proposed authorization used tactics that didn’t allow sufficient time for our leaders to get the job done. Because the strategy of waiting to the last minute and hoping that that will force the opposition to acquiesce is a demonstration of leadership.
Perhaps leadership is using procedural tactics to stall and delay action is leadership. Except, where is the alternative decision, the better strategy and solution that will accomplish the national security and the protection of privacy needs that are so critical and important to the fabric of our democracy? Was the preventing a vote strategy required because there wasn’t sufficient time to provide a better solution? This would be despite the fact that this issue didn’t spring up at the last minute, the issue has been in the fore for years now, the date of the Patriot Act’s expiration was known and thus a solution need date was obvious, or was it that no solution could be offered to address the issues on the table because our ‘leaders’ are not able to lead.
If some claim that their ‘leader’ succeeded the question should be succeeded at what? Is the issue resolved? No. Are the consequences from the inaction better than the consequences of action? No. There must and will still be legislation required to authorize national security activities and absent an informed approach and strategy to address the conflicting social interests the problem persists. What have we succeeded at? We have succeeded at playing political theatre with a benefit to the political campaigns, to the media minutes spent on the crisis (whichever side you may be on), and to the continuity of dysfunction in government. Do we have a successful solution to the issues, the risks, the public interests? So surely this is leadership.