If I told my grandfather Rudy Kiesler that I hit a home run in baseball, or that I thought the Mets would win the World Series, or that men just landed on the moon, he would invariably respond: "You don't say!" Maybe he wasn't even listening. But he had always had a response ready just in case.
Now my brother and I joke about it. I can always say it, in a thick Eastern European accent, and it's good for a laugh. It's our way of remembering him, even if no one else does.
"We don't have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. And that information is useful. But what I've said before I want to make sure I repeat, and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy. None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers, but they're pretty significant powers."
It's what he didn't say that is so interesting.
"None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers."
A politician chooses his words carefully. "None of the revelations show" is not the same as saying "It hasn't happened." More whistleblowers need to come forward to make that verbal trick not work.
He also didn't say why, given the risks, that he acknowledges, how and when we decided this was where we wanted to go. When was it discussed in an election campaign? When was it debated publicly in Congress? When was an amendment to the Constitution passed that gave the executive branch such sweeping powers to investigate us. When did We The People get a say in giving such enormous power to elected and non-elected officials?
Both my grandfathers were immigrants to this country who fled from governments that wanted them dead, for being Jewish. In those days, where they lived, this was a crime punishable by death. So you can't tell me that governments made up of ordinary humans are incapable of using this kind of information to turn life into a living hell.
At least my grandparents had somewhere to run. Now, this place they came to with their families, fleeing for their lives, is developing the kind of surveillance state their persecutors could only dream of. It's enormously naive to think it won't be used this way. It will. And I think the President more or less admitted that it already has.