The security policy of the U.S. government from Cheney to Obama has passed from secret surveillance of communications abroad to secret surveillance of all communications at home. In what stages did it happen? Some day the history will be written; for now, it is instructive to rehearse the facts. Five years ago, Barack Obama was a candidate for president who pledged to filibuster a congressional bill that offered amnesty to telecoms that illegally gave information on American customers to the government. When Obama backed down from that promise, he pledged, if elected, to have his attorney general investigate the surveillance of Americans and bring the laws of the land back within the limits of the fourth amendment. As it turned out, he made Eric Holder his attorney general, and the security policy of the Obama administration came to be defined by harsh prosecution of whistleblowers who revealed the facts of illegal searches and seizures.
Three scandals have converged in the past week to preoccupy Congress and the press. Benghazi was the first to come, and it has surprised by its staying power. The abuse of power by the IRS may be, in the long run, the most damaging of these cases for the Obama presidency, but its outlines are only beginning to emerge. But the ugliest of the scandals has come from the revelation of the justice department's seizure of two months of phone calls by 100 AP reporters. This was done to investigate the leak of a thwarted terrorist plot which the government itself had already decided to disclose in public. Different as they are, the scandals all point to a single disorder that afflicts the Obama White House and the Holder justice department. The name of the disorder is paternalism, and its leading symptoms are suppression and secrecy.