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Franken defends NSA surveillance programs

Credibility is an interesting thing. For many years, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was a very active lawmaker, taking the lead in negotiations on a wide range of issues, representing progressive interests. When a compromise was reached, Kennedy would routinely defend the bills to liberal constituencies, telling them that it was as a good a bill as the left could hope to get.

And the left would believe him because ... he was Ted Kennedy. He had credibility. If he told liberal activists it was the best progressives could do, they trusted Kennedy was right.

This came to mind this afternoon when I saw the report on Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) unexpectedly defending NSA surveillance programs.

"I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people," Franken told Minneapolis-based CBS affiliate WCCO. The junior Minnesota senator, who's only been in the Senate since 2009, said he was "was very well aware of" the surveillance programs and was not surprised by a recent slate of bombshell reports by both The Guardian and The Washington Post.

"I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism," Franken said.

When it comes to privacy issues, Franken generally has credibility. Indeed, in the last Congress, it was Franken's office that literally wrote the bill on protecting Americans' electronic privacy. Earlier in the year, the Minnesota Democrat earned plaudits from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation for working to prevent monitoring of private online communications.

And with this in mind, it comes as something of a surprise to see Franken publicly defend the NSA programs. In fact, among Senate Democrats, I expect public endorsements from members like Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), but not Franken.

So I suppose one of two things is likely. One, those who've been skeptical of NSA surveillance will say, "Well, if Franken's comfortable with them, maybe the programs aren't as bad as I'd feared," or two, those same folks will say, "Maybe Franken isn't quite as credible as I'd hoped."