As is the case with most of the country, the NSA’s surveillance program has become a hot-button issue in New Jersey. Voters and politicians are truly divided as to whether or not government data mining is a necessary tool to combat terrorism. While Chris Christie, the state’s incredibly popular governor, has endorsed the program, his acceptance is not widespread within the GOP. Both Republican candidates for United States Senate oppose the NSA’s monitoring the citizenry; however, most of the Democratic hopefuls have been less apt to take a concrete stand against the NSA. Indeed, in a crowded field of well-known liberal power-players, a lone progressive, Representative Rush Holt, has promised to safeguard individual privacy and work towards repealing the Patriot Act.
“I am the author of the legislation that is currently pending to repeal the FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act,” said Holt, the most liberal of the four Democrats competing in next Tuesday’s primary.
While most Americans probably recognize the cerebral Holt as the man who beat Jeopardy’s super computer, the Congressman hopes to also be known as a champion of civil liberties. He advocates pro-privacy positions that set his campaign, which has recently used his career as a physicist to market decidedly liberal views in series of clever scientific-themed advertisements, apart from the opposition.
Though critics argue the Garden State’s Democratic hopefuls are interchangeable and see minimal ideological difference between the four primary candidates (a recent column by Herb Jackson claimed they all rest to the Left of President Obama), Holt adamantly disagrees with this over-simplified assessment. He perceives a vast disparity between himself and the other three contenders, not only in regards to the protection civil liberties, but also with respect to healthcare reform, the environment, and a bevy of other progressive causes.
“A lot of these are progressive or liberal issues,” he said. “The others in the debate will either say, ‘Oh, me too [I agree], but we aren’t going to talk about it much,’ or they will try to say how progressive they are without actually coming around to espousing those things.”
Though Mayor Cory Booker is currently considered the frontrunner for the nomination, Newark’s political superstar has thus far only attended one of three Senatorial debates and consistently shied away from criticizing the NSA. While Congressman Pallone condemned government surveillance, he was inexplicably absent, and thus did not cast a vote, when a bill that would have restricted domestic spying was presented in the House of Representatives. In regards to the NSA, Assembly Speaker Oliver’s website states: “we must balance the needs of homeland security with protecting the privacy of law abiding citizens.” Holt, on the other-hand, is clear about the fact he doesn’t buy into the argument that liberty needs to be sacrificed for security.
“Its too often presented as a necessary trade off between security and civil liberties,” he said. “We can certainly have both simultaneously and each one strengthens the other!”
Though these views have isolated him from the other candidates, Holt believes the issue of privacy needs to be addressed, not only in order to safeguard individual rights, but also to restore the public’s rapidly waning faith in their government.
“It is up to us, public leaders and the public in general, to make sure that we get the ship of state back on track,” he said. “The reason this requires action is we have to re-establish a proper relationship between the government and her citizens and it should not be one of suspicion; the government should regard Americans as citizens first, not suspects first.”