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Beinhart's Body Politic: Do Wackado, Wackado 

click to enlarge DION OGUST
  • Dion Ogust

Edward Snowden has done more than release top secret national security documents. He's drawn forth the armchair analysts. They've crawled out of the earth, eager as ants sensing a picnic basket, to feast on Snowden's transgressions and tell us how they must be the product of a damaged life and a perverse psyche.

Jeffrey Toobin, the legal analyst for CNN, wrote an article in The New Yorker titled "Snowden Is No Hero" which stated that the "act speaks more to his ego than his conscience." Matt Miller, the "center" on the radio show "Left, Right, and Center," used a whole column in the Washington Post to diminish and denigrate Snowden as naïve, foolish, and callow.

Geoffrey Stone, Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, said, "the one thing he most certainly should not have done is to decide on the basis of his own ill-informed, arrogant and amateurish judgment that he knows better than everyone else in government how best to serve the national interest." (I must say there is something about the distinguished in his title that suggests someone claiming to be cosmopolitan because they eat at the International House of Pancakes.)

Steven Bucci, an ex-deputy assistant secretary of defense under George Bush, currently at the Heritage Foundation, said, "Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning have a lot in common: Each decided he is the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong with America's policies [and] they apparently felt they had a mission that would allow them to enjoy the status of martyrs."

Former FBI profiler and US Army counterintelligence agent, Clint van Zandt, quoted in the Daily Beast, said it was arrogance, showing off, probably a product of narcissism. Canadian criminal-profile expert Jim van Allen, in the same article, spoke of the "typical whistleblower personality," noting that Snowden used "some really emotionally charged language," which exhibited "extreme thinking," and, obviously, "He wants people to notice him. The fact this guy allowed himself to be named leads to a notoriety aspect of his personality."

Best in Show has go to New York Times columnist David Brooks, who recently wrote that integration was an idealistic but failed idea, like Communism. Brooks started off slowly, trying to live up to his self-image as a rational, fair, and, most important, an intellectual conservative. He described Snowden as "thoughtful, morally engaged, and deeply committed to his beliefs," then he switched gears and announced that, "in fact, he is making everything worse." To the degree that one can chant in print, Brooks did so with the word "betrayed," braying it over and over. Snowden had betrayed trust, cooperation, respect, deference, honesty, integrity, his oaths, his friends, his employers, the cause of open government, the privacy of us all, and the Constitution!

George Bernard Shaw, who is not a pundit, but was the best known playwright in the world back in the 20th Century, wrote about having his eyes tested and being told that his vision was "normal." "I naturally took this to mean that it was like everybody else's." But the opthamologist said, no, "that I was an exceptional and highly fortunate person optically, normal sight conferring the power of seeing things accurately, and being enjoyed by only about ten percent of the population, the remaining 90 percent being abnormal."

When a car runs well, we think of it as "normal," even though all cars break down in varying degrees at different points in time. If a woman is being attacked in the courtyard of an apartment building, we would say that the "normal" response is to call the police and we continue to say so even if only one of the hundred people who hear her screaming actually dials 911.

If normal refers to the way things are supposed to work, the instinct to right a wrong should be considered normal. Even if only 10 percent, or one percent, or 1/1000th of one percent of us actually acts according to that standard. It is very straightforward. It requires no explanation. What does require explanation is the rage of the response from onlookers.

It starts with a very distinct form of blindness.

Geoffrey Stone, the distinguished professor of law, wrote that Snowden ought to have to have gone to "senior, responsible members of Congress." The problem that Snowden faced was that everyone, right up to the president, and including Congress, was in on it. Members of Congress who have been briefed on national security issues are sworn into the web of secrecy, after which they can never speak of what they've heard, even though they may know very little and understand less.

Toobin lives in that same idealized fantasia. He asserts that "our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work." In reality, complaints that stay in-house get buried, and whistleblowers who go public in any manner are not protected or rewarded. Instead, they're likely to be investigated, have their homes searched by the FBI, and get charged with whatever infraction the authorities can come up with.

Distinguished Professor Stone takes this position: "There is no reason on earth why an individual government employee should have the authority, on his own say so, to override the judgment of the elected representatives of the American people."

No reason on earth? Once we join an organization, whatever it is—a corporation, a school, the priesthood, the police, or the Third Reich—we should abide by the group's decision? David Brooks stand firmly by his side even though a line like "he betrayed his employers, Booz Allen," could only come from Mel Brooks, as part of a corporate satire, "Horrors, he betrayed Seven-11," or "Hang him by his burgers, he was disloyal to McDonald's!"

It's not Snowden who requires explaining. It is not revealing the truth that calls for psychiatric investigation.

It is people who react to truth-tellers by foaming at the mouth, postulating fantasy worlds, and declaring that loyalty to the group, in virtually all circumstances, trumps any other moral consideration, who need to be explained. If anyone out there knows David Brooks, or any of the pundits quoted herein, if you get the chance, please encourage them to seek help.

Speaking of...

  • Larry Beinhart reflects on the consequences of the recent NSA scandal.


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