Since whistleblower Edward Snowden released shocking revelations about a far-reaching national surveillance program, the issue of “Big Brother,” and exactly whom he is watching, has become a topic of intense debate. It would make sense, given the high-profile nature of this controversy, that New Jersey’s varied Senate hopefuls would express their personal views regarding the NSA’s surveillance of American citizens.
Thus far, it is Republican frontrunner Steve Lonegan, the hyper-conservative former Mayor of Bogota, who has offered the harshest criticism of what many perceive as an Orwellian system.During an appearance in Toms River earlier this week, Mayor Lonegan warned his assembled supporters that the government should not to be trusted in its monitoring of the citizenry, arguing that their earlier claim that they weren’t reading private e-mails should be viewed with skepticism in the wake of the Obama Administration’s repeated betrayals of public trust.
For Mayor Lonegan, a candidate whose strict socially conservative views have traditionally marginalized him from the general electorate, criticism of the government’s controversial surveillance program could prove a strategic strongpoint.
Mayor Lonegan has stated that, if elected to the Senate, he would quickly align himself with Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, favorites in the Tea Party movement, known for their straightforward criticism of the Obama Administration and opposition to further expansion of federal power.
Aside from his North Jersey accent, Mayor Lonegan certainly sounds like these two Republican power players; however, it is important to recognize that Paul and Cruz both represent traditionally conservative states, Kentucky and Texas, where libertarian fiscal ideals are generally embraced. That he hopes to bring this message of individualism and minimal government to New Jersey, where the Republican Party itself is fairly moderate, will prove a daunting challenge, one that most pundits expect will be impossible.
However, if Mayor Lonegan, who has traditionally only appealed to a niche demographic, is able to latch onto an issue that enjoys widespread appeal, he could foster positive discourse mapping out substantive policy change.The NSA could be such a topic.
True, Mayor Lonegan’s opposition to the surveillance will likely be dismissed as irrelevant by some, but one should not be so quick to dismiss his support for personal privacy. It may prove a marketable message that could potentially expand his base.
It is worth noting that the Republican enjoys nationwide contacts through his work as an organizer for American for Prosperity -- out of state donors flooding money into New Jersey is a distinct possibility.
If libertarians across the nation, aghast at Snowden’s dire warnings, warmly receive the Lonegan platform, the door for further financial support will remain open. This will, after-all, be a high-profile election; the candidate himself has promised a showdown between progressivism and its conservative counterpart.
Even if he loses the election, Mayor Lonegan’s opposition to the NSA could have a positive impact; the sentiment could rub off onto the Democratic candidates, who will undoubtedly be fearful of losing votes to the GOP should personal privacy become a major issue in the campaign.
Thus far, only Democratic Representative Rush Holt, the rocket scientist whose progressive economic views couldn’t be farther from Lonegan’s, has promised to dismantle the Patriot Act, along with what his website refers to as the “surveillance state.” The website of congressman Frank Pallone lacks any reference to the NSA; the homepage of Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the fourth Democratic candidate, states that the NSA has “gone a step too far” and that privacy and security must be "balanced."
Though Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s website says he was “deeply troubled” by the NSA’s actions, he has not committed to Lonegan or Holt’s all out opposition to the program, instead stating he believes: “It is a basic principle of our founding that laws be open to public debate and inspection,” and that the NSA must be monitored by Congress, the courts, and the public. For Mayor Lonegan, however, the time for talking has passed.
“We had that robust discussion…two-hundred and thirty-seven years ago,” Lonegan told a cheering audience on Wednesday evening. “It was called the American Revolution."
To those within the Lonegan camp, a follow-up revolution seems to be at hand.