If you look at the data (not mined, but gathered politely over the telephone with the consent of the questioned), you'll notice that almost a quarter of the Democrats polled now like Bush. His approval ratings have been creeping up at about the same pace at which Obama has been revealing himself to be more like Bush than not. It could just be a melding of personas.
Then again, as Gallup notes, Americans have always treated ex-presidents kindly. We are a polite bunch. If you're confronted by a stranger out of the blue, who brings up a guy back in high school named Joe Smith, and you have only a dim hazy memory of his being an obnoxious fellow, you're not going to blurt out "Yeah, he was a real S.O.B. I hate his guts!"
Since Joe Smith has not done you any actual harm in the past several years, you're more likely to be noncommittal and circumspect in your remarks, and you might even say what a great guy he was, much the same way you reply "fine" when people ask how you're doing. People tend to forgive, as well as forget, with the passage of time. No atrocity can be so bad as to linger in our minds forever. It behooves us to protect our mental health, not to dwell upon the past, and thus protect those least deserving of protection.
And the half of the population which approves of domestic spying? Same theory. What we never knew about never hurt us in any palpable sense. It's easier to trust leaders and experts than to educate ourselves on metadata and algorithms. It's easier, and safer, to say we approve of something when that something might be listening in on the phone call.
Breaking down the Pew/Washington Post poll results, while half the respondents don't want the government eavesdropping on their private communications, only a fourth of them take issue with the secret laws and secret courts that allow the practice. And as is usual in all repressive, authoritarian regimes, the fear factor is the cudgel that keeps the cowed populace in line. More than two-thirds of those polled point to fear of a terrorist attack as justification for the destruction of their privacy rights.
While the numbers are similar to polls conducted during the Bush years, there's been a near-total flip flop on the views of Republicans and Democrats on domestic spying programs. Back in 2006, only 37% of Democrats approved and 61% disapproved of the NSA surveillance program. The most recent results show that 67% of Democrats are fine with being spied on, since President Obama is the one doing it.
Three out of four Republicans loved it when Bush peeped on them. And while they say they hate it that Obama is doing them now, they don't hate it as much as the Dems hated being hounded by the odious George. Almost half the Republicans report tolerating abuse under Barack. They are just not as principled and choosy as Democrats, it seems.
We are a nation of short attention-spanned hypocrites.
So, thank God for the Germans, who do have long memories. Just before President Obama is set to perform at the Brandenburg Gate, the Germans are accusing him of Stasi tactics. The NSA sweep is sweeping them up, too. NSA, when you actually try to pronounce it, is almost a homophone of Nazi. From Reuters:
Government surveillance is an extremely sensitive topic in Germany, where memories of the dreaded Stasi secret police and its extensive network of informants are still fresh in the minds of many citizens.
In a guest editorial for Spiegel Online on Tuesday, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said reports that the United States could access and track virtually all forms of Internet communication were "deeply disconcerting" and potentially dangerous.
"The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is," she said.
"The suspicion of excessive surveillance of communication is so alarming that it cannot be ignored. For that reason, openness and clarification by the U.S. administration itself is paramount at this point. All facts must be put on the table."
Markus Ferber, a member of Merkel's Bavarian sister party who sits in the European Parliament, went further, accusing Washington of using "American-style Stasi methods".I am looking forward to watching Obama's speech, to be appropriately delivered adjacent to the Tiergarten (Garden of Beasts) and the old Reichstag.