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Obama’s Jewish Opponent on Surveillance

Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon leads the charge against government spying

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US Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, arrives at a red carpet event hosted by Google and the Hollywood Reporter on the eve of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington on April 27, 2012.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

If you watch the Sunday morning news shows (or read the adorable micro-studies of them) you probably aren’t familiar with Senator Ron Wyden. Unlike say, Senator John McCain or his fellow amigo Lindsey Graham, who have made roughly 60 appearances each since 2010, Senator Ron Wyden remains among the majority of lawmakers yet to grace the high-profile Sunday morning panels led by television’s Gregorys and Stephanopouli.

But that could change soon. After all, Wyden hasn’t been skipping the studios for church on Sundays. The son of the Edith and Peter Wyden, originally the Weidenreiches, both from Jewish families that fled Nazi Germany, Wyden has represented Oregon in Congress since Reagan first took office and has been in the Senate since 1996 and, in recent days, has been making quite a name for himself as an opponent of President Obama’s much decried surveillance programs.

After spending years calling for the disclosure of the surveillance tactics used by the American intelligence community, Wyden—who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee—has called into question the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that spying on Americans has not been as widespread as his critics suggest.

“Since government officials have repeatedly told the public and Congress that Patriot Act authorities are simply analogous to a grand jury subpoena, and that intelligence agencies do not collect information or dossiers on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, I think the executive branch has an obligation to explain whether or not these statements are actually true.” Wyden said last week.

The standoff was the culmination of years of work by Wyden and a few other like-minded lawmakers to bring the spying apparatuses to task for supposedly overreaching in their mining and collection of data on American citizens.

In March, Wyden squared off against James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, over the revelations that the NSA had collected three billion pieces of information from within the United States. Prior to that, Wyden helped filibuster against John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for CIA Director, whose candidacy Wyden opposed.

While the national gaze focuses on last week’s disclosures, it seems unlikely that the Obama administration’s biggest foil on the issue would be a senator from the President’s own party. Then again, Wyden may just be the chosen representative of the Democrats’ progressive wing to champion the causes overlooked by an administration governing from the center.

Kansas-born and Stanford-educated, Wyden graduated from law school and taught college courses on gerontology before running for a seat in the House of Representatives. In Oregon, where liberalism often takes on a libertarian bent, Wyden has remained popular while supporting a single-payer healthcare system, legalizing medical marijuana, opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq despite supporting a measures to make English the national language, advocating against assisted suicide, and voting for a measure to deny the right to Habeus Corpus for enemy combatants.

The surveillance furor is a natural issue for Wyden, who was widely credited for his pioneering work in the defeat of SOPA and PIPA, stalling the legislation from going through as a public campaign to defeat the measures grew from the interwebs and outward.

Should his stock continue to rise, it isn’t difficult to envision Wyden taking up the mantle of far-left challenger to whomever the Democrats trot out in 2016. But before all that, maybe you’ll catch him on a Sunday morning first.

Previous: The Emerging Culture of Surveillance

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Obama’s Jewish Opponent on Surveillance

Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon leads the charge against government spying

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