Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nixon redux: Obama White House asks Americans to rat out neighbors to government

Whatever you think about President Obama's drive for health care reform, you ought to find the effort by the White House to enlist Americans as government informers on other Americans who don't agree with the current Administration distasteful and unsettling. We are accustomed to the role of any President as a political leader and give the occupant of the White House wide latitude to conduct essentially political operations using government employees and resources. Still, there are -- or at least, there used to be -- some bright red lines the President should not cross. One of these lines has surely been crossed by the current campaign organized by the White House Office of Health Care Reform to get Americans to report "fishy" emails and other communications from other Americans to Big Brother at the White House. Lest you think this isn't such a big deal, it seems that once your email has been reported, it will remain a permanent government record -- potentially a large-scale White House "enemies list" that Richard Nixon could only have dreamed about. Here's the White House pitch for informers:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to
I sent the following email to (I did not receive a reply so far)and urge other Democrats to do likewise:

I'm a Democrat, but this effort to get Americans to snitch on their relatives, friends and neighbors by forwarding "fishy" emails and such to the government is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of free expression without the heavy-handed interference of the state and, thus, reprehensible. It should cease immediately, and any records collected by this program should be expunged.

I have never seen a more blatant attempt by government to invade the privacy of Americans since the days of rampant and excessive tracking of dissidents by the FBI and other agencies during the Nixon Administration.

Rather than harass people who oppose him on policy grounds in this way, President Obama and his Administration would do better to answer forthrightly and in greater detail the many questions being raised by Americans of the right, left and center about the myriad of not-yet-explained and constantly changing health care reform proposals being shaped by Congress and the Administration. If people are in the dark and easy prey to Internet-driven rumors, Obama and the Congressional leadership have only themselves to blame.

John Burke
What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- Asked about a possible permament record of people who disagree with the Administration, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "Nobody is collecting names." It would be snarky to say that's what Nixon said, too. But the issue is not whether it is the government's intention to collect names. Rather, it's that the correspondence, along with whatever names are attached to it, will be Presidential records that must be kept and could be accessed in the future to your detriment.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds much more like a campaign to find common arguments that need to be addressed than anything else. No one says you have to put the original author in the email you send to flag.

    More astroturf.