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Batman versus Government Mice

I've always liked Dick Cheney. Anyone so tough he shoots his friend in the head is my kind of vice president. I mean, imagine how that made al-Qaeda feel! "Oh man, that's what he does to his friends???" Reminds me of the scene in the film The Long Goodbye where the gangster threatens the hero by smashing a coke bottle in his own girlfriend's face. Then he turns to the hero and says, "Now, that's someone I love! And you I don't even like!" I always felt safer with Cheney in the White House.

But he's wrong about Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency. I saw the vice president on Fox News Sunday recently and he said Snowden was a traitor and the NSA was full of fine, upstanding patriotic men and women who could be trusted to read our private communications without violating our liberties. But that misses the point twice.

First of all, it doesn't matter who or what Snowden is. As Instapundit Glenn Reynolds says in an excellent USA Today column, the question of whether he's a good person or not is "the least important question raised by the event." The Obama administration's obsession with maintaining secrecy and impenetrable government opaqueness makes me sympathetic to Snowden's current plight. I hope he manages to avoid the clutches of this sinister White House. But every time he opens his mouth, he sounds like a moral nitwit to me.

Secondly, and more importantly, even if the NSA's domestic spying has, as Cheney and the agency itself argue, prevented terrorist attacks, it has clearly gone too far and lasted too long — at least without receiving further public scrutiny.

To understand why, we should turn to an expert on the subject of keeping us safe:  Batman. You remember the wonderful 2008 film The Dark Knight. At the time of the movie's release, a searingly insightful and dashingly handsome columnist for the Wall Street Journal pointed out that it was an apologia for the anti-terrorism policies of George W. Bush. "Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past." Specifically, in a clear reference to NSA-type policies, Batman uses a city-wide tracking device to spy on Gotham's citizens in order to catch the Joker. When the danger is past, Batman has the instrument destroyed.