Memo to Congress: Don’t expect privacy on the Internet
March 1, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once observedin his gravely from-the-bottom-of-the-well voicethat “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
I don’t know if his comment came during one of his classes at Harvard, but he has taught there and perhaps was one of the professors that conduct a biennial class for incoming freshman members of Congress. The classes are intended to instruct them in how Congress operatesfrom the committee system to parliamentary rules.
One item that should be on that congressional curriculum even if all the newly elected Members of Congress may soon forget it is that “there is no expectation of privacy on the Internet.” Whatever you do or say on the worldwide web, from opinions, correspondence, photos, videos and music, if you send it into the cybersphere, other people will have access to itincluding journalists and your political opposition.
What continues to amaze us after all these years is that some very public figures believe the Internet can be as private as the confessional booth, or as a consultation with their physician. Apparently, these people don’t read newspapers, magazines and political thrillers, or even access the information available to them on the Internet.
Of course, the Internet is not the only way that high profile people can be outed for doing what they shouldn’t be doing. People like former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, or former Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican, have been exposed in their extra-aphrodisiacal pursuits by other means. Power certainly seemed to fuel their sexual appetites, as Kissinger observed, while blinding them to the dangerous public tightropes they were walking.
Spitzer, Craig, former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY 29th Dist.) and former Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN 3rd Dist.) are just a few of the more recent people on the long list of politicians who, like Chris Lee, have disappointed their families, their constituents and the people who contributed money to their election campaigns. There may be others who may soon join the list of those political figures who leave crumbs on the non-public trails of their private peccadilloes for journalists and the public to follow.
As Kissinger said, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
The latest example of the failure to understand how media works and how the public can react to shock of trust betrayed is that of Rep. Christopher Lee of New York’s 26th District.
If nothing else, Lee had learned that it’s not the crime that does you in so much as the cover-up. Within hours of his bare-chested flirting on the Internet becoming public, Lee immediately resigned his seat in Congress. That’s a shame, like so many of the others who have been nominated for the wall of shame, Lee was popular and had risen to a higher level of power than the average Member of Congress. Lee, in only his second term, had been appointed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Lee was also another pro-gunner who had fallen from political grace.
His resignation surprised and stunned many, particularly in his district. It also immediately set off speculation about how soon Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo would schedule a special election to fill his Lee’s seat in one of the few New York district’s that has been traditionally Republican in recent years. In fact, his district is one of those that could be redrawn and reshaped, or even eliminated, as New York loses more representation in the House of Representatives following reapportionment.
Now there are a number of well known local politicians in both major political parties who are being considered as possible candidates to succeed Lee. Most of those named so far are pro-gunners, but if they leave their present offices at the county or state level, they will create a rippling vacuum. And, what is worse, considering the prospects of redistricting, is that they could even win a race for a seat that may no longer exist after the 2012 national elections.
Some Americans don’t pay regular attention to politics, oftentimes because they think it to dull, or that it does not affect their daily lives. However, what happens in Washington does affect us all, and some politicians certainly seem bent on making politics as interesting as what happens to Hollywood celebrities.
This suggests all kinds of possibilities for new “reality” shows on TV. Perhaps one could be titled, “So you want to go to Congress?”
TV aside, Capitol Hill can be an exciting and interesting place, no matter what extracurricular activities its inhabitants engage in, publicly or privately. And there are plenty of people lobbying their causes, both in and out of hotel rooms.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is always ready to sell his anti-gun snake oil on Capitol Hill, and he’s usually willing to back up his entreaties with cash support for election campaigns. And when there isn’t a ready-made incident to give him a public platform, he’ll spend his money to create news as he did recently in his alleged “gun show sting” in Phoenix.
Then there are the media outlets that are urging Congress to do this or that, especially newspapers with long histories of support for gun control.
The Jan. 8 Tucson, AZ, shooting incident gave all of them a new springboard for another try at passage of new gun control laws, not that many of the anti-gunners really need an excuse for them to preach.
The Christian Science Monitor is just one example of a newspaper stumping for the citizen disarmament cause.
On Jan. 27, The Monitor advised lawmakers in Congress to shed their fear of the NRA and pass legislation to “ban high-capacity gun ammunition clips and close the ‘gun show loophole’ ” that has been introduced in Congress.
In making their pitch for the gun control measures, The Monitor said:
“No substantial gun-control law has made it through Congress in the past 17 years. Emblazoned on the minds of Democratstraditional supporters of gun legislationis the 1994 electoral thumping they took from the gun lobby. That was the year the Assault Weapons Ban and the background check went into effect. Later losses only reinforced their fear of the NRA.”
The Monitor paraphrased the anti-gunners, like Bloomberg, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who claim the NRA and the gun lobby as not as powerful as some might fear, and urged them to blaze a new trail for the anti-gunners.
The Monitor concluded its latest argument for new gun control measures with the following two paragraphs.
“With a Republican-controlled House and a strong gun lobby, gun-control advocates are not particularly hopeful (of passage of new gun restrictions). And yet, even the landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling establishing the individual right to bear arms still allows for regulation,” the newspaper.
“There is no way to test the waters but to wade into them. Tucson demands that lawmakers do just that.”
Certainly, The Monitor has no political career of its own to risk in following the chancy route to test the mood of the current Congress, but the newspaper’s stand, seems to be flying in the face of a strong pro-gun wind.
We’ll soon find out what the mood of the current Congress will be on the issue of gun control, but so far, most polling suggests that the majority of the public has no interest in pursuing such an agenda.
Maybe they’ll sit home and watch “So you want to go to Congress” or the latest thrilling, true-life escapade of a member of that august body.
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