“This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Mr. Christie said on a panel with other Republican governors here […]“The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put.…” said Mr. Christie, before cutting himself off.
Many commentators have picked up on the fact that Christie’s words were inelegantly expressed. And yet, the basic point he was making is deeply aligned with what we see in American public opinion more broadly. In periods of relative safety—whether real or imagined—the public is zealous to guard its privacy and civil liberties. In periods of perceived danger—in the aftermath of an attack, for example—the people are less worried about ceding some power to the government if they think it makes them safer.In the wake of the NSA revelations, and the meteoric rise of Rand Paul, the GOP is essentially seeing a resurgence of Jeffersonianism, a kind of stance towards politics that wants small domestic government, few foreign entanglements, and heavy checks against the abuse of national security power.Jeffersonianism, with Rand Paul as its standard bearer, is more popular than ever in today’s GOP. Take, for example, the recent vote of GOP-controlled House to pass to a law limiting NSA surveillance. Though it failed, the vote was very close, closer than expected—205 to 217.And yet, it did fail. Congress follows the polls. It seems that both the American people and their representatives are reaching for a middle way—a via media, if you will–between excessive invasions of privacy and excessive precautions that endanger American liberty. We think there is much wisdom in searching for this middle ground, and we hope that as Jeffersonians continue to snipe at Jacksonians, the American polity will quietly work its way towards a commonsense consensus.[Photo courtesy Getty Images]