Last night’s vote on the Amash amendment made seemingly strange bedfellows: as more House Democrats than Republicans voted for the anti-NSA measure, Michele Bachman emerged as a defender of the Obama administration's bulk collection of phone metadata. Bachmann, who believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated, and influences, the federal government, would like the federal government to retain their secret powers of surveillance on millions of Americans. As quoted by the National Review, Bachmann said on Wednesday, just before the vote:
“If we take this program and remove from the United States the distinct advantage that we have versus any other country,” she argued, ”it will be those who are seeking to achieve the goals of Islamic jihad who will benefit by putting the United States at risk, and it will be the United States which will be at risk. I believe that we need to win the War on Terror,” she continued. “We need to defeat the goals and aims of Islamic jihad, and for that reason I will be voting no on the Amash amendment.”
Bachmann, who built her political reputation as an anti-establishment Tea Party champion and has been quick to accuse Obama of turning the U.S. into a dictatorship on a range of issues from Obamacare to contraception to the debt ceiling to cap-and-trade. But on mass surveillance of Americans she joins Peter King, who has called for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald, House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon, and a handful of conservative and anti-sharia national security writers in, at least partially, defending the NSA’s spying powers. Those include the National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney, and the Heritage Foundation, all of whom, one would think, would stand against trusting the government to play nicely with sweeping, secret, surveillance powers. So what’s going on?
In part, as Greenwald outlined this morning, the NSA debate has forced the traditional divisions of left vs. right to the sideline as unlikely political alliances form over the states of the role, and scope, of a national security state. And those divisions, which seem so unnatural in the context of our normal political narrative, are doing some interesting things to how the Tea Party is seen. The Tea Party presents itself as a secular coalition of anti-government grassroots activism — "TEA," as many activists will point out, was meant to stand for "Taxed enough already." Bachmann was, once, a champion of that movement. But for her NSA remarks, one-time Bachmann booster and Tea Party television hero Glenn Beck said on Thursday, “Michele B- is not dead to me, but she is in very ill health.” To further pick away at the monolithic image of the party as a secular, outsider movement centered around objecting to government overreach, the Tea Party movement itself as a political force shares a substantial part of its infrastructure and funding with that of the more authoritarian, and politically experienced, religious right. Those existing divisions, coupled with the Tea Party's embrace of proponents of an anti-Islamic, conservative ideology, has helped to divided the movement over which thing to fear more: the authoritarian national security state or the threat of Islamic terrorism?