Tuesday’s House Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government hearing veered into contentious territory as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) locked horns with Norman Eisen, a veteran of the Obama administration. The bone of contention was the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) allocation of millions in technology grants purportedly aimed at curbing mis- and disinformation, a move Gaetz vehemently challenged.
Gaetz, with his characteristic zeal, put Eisen on the spot interrogating him about the NSF’s decision to fund projects that, according to Gaetz, potentially target individuals based on their cultural and constitutional beliefs. The hearing took an intense turn when Gaetz cited a specific grant to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), alleging it classified certain Americans as more prone to misinformation due to their reliance on personal convictions over the “expert class.”
“Mr. Eisen, I guess my question to you, if you’re done texting, would be, like, is that OK with you? What NSF has done?” Gaetz started. “Is that essentially what you’re reporting concludes? […] Essentially, this Track F program […] awarded the $750,000 grants to 12 initial projects,” Gaetz pressed.
“I do have an opinion, Mr. Gaetz, as you know, there are two texts that are holy to me. One is our Torah, our Bible that I live by… The other text that is holy to me is the Constitution,” Eisen explained, trying to find common ground.
However, Gaetz was relentless, pointing out the irony in the NSF’s approach: “Okay, let me stop you there Mr. Eisen because here’s the problem. While you indicate that the Torah and the Constitution are your sacred texts, if Americans indicate online that the Bible and the Constitution are sacred to them, the very grants that are being issued by the NSF would deem those people in a separate and diminished class.”
Eisen, an American attorney, author, and former diplomat, is best known for his role as the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014 during the Obama administration. Eisen also served as Special Counsel and Special Assistant to President Barack Obama, where he worked on ethics and government reform issues.
After his government service, he has been involved in advocacy and legal work, particularly focusing on issues of democracy, governance, and anti-corruption. Eisen has been a frequent commentator on legal and ethical issues in the media and has written extensively on these topics. He is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on governance studies.
The debate soon escalated to the implications of using AI for censorship, with Gaetz drawing parallels to dystopian fiction. “Have you seen the movie Minority Report, Tom Cruise? Doesn’t this kind of feel like that? That you’re trying to do that, that it’s coming to life before our very eyes,” Gaetz argued.
Eisen’s attempts to provide context were often cut short by Gaetz’s sharp interjections.
Gaetz’s assertion that “it’s not that military families and rural Americans and people who love the Bible and Constitution are dumber or uniquely susceptible to anything. It’s just they don’t think like how the expert class and the National Science Foundation wants them to think,” captured the essence of the controversy.