It takes a certain kind of amoral my-team-at-all-cost player to ponder a massive revelation of civil liberties violations and societal debate over the appropriate relative emphasis on security vs. personal freedom and conclude: This is awesome, because it will divide my political opponents! Michael Tomasky is just that team player. He's also, apparently, oddly blind to just how much this divides his political allies — and how the division cuts across and may redefine political afiliations as a whole. Entirely absent from his musings as he noodles on about political advantage is any concern for privacy, the intrusive state, or the fate of Edward Snowden, now that he's exposed himself as the whistleblower.
At the Daily Beast, Tomasky writes:
Here's something I'll certainly be keeping one eye fixed on as the Edward Snowden story advances: the degree to which the American right takes him up as a cause célèbre. They're up a tree either way. If they do, then they're obviously guilty of the rankest hypocrisy imaginable, because we all know that if Snowden had come forward during George W. Bush's presidency, the right-wing media would by now have sniffed out every unsavory fact about his life (and a hefty mountain of fiction) in an effort to tar him. If they don't, then they've lost an opportunity to sully Barack Obama. Since they like smearing Obama a lot more than they care about hypocrisy, my guess is that they will lionize him, as some already are. But in the long run, doing that will only expose how deep the rifts are between the national-security right and the libertarian right, and this issue will only extend and intensify those disagreements.
Insert your own hand-clasping and sinister chuckle here.
There's no doubt that the likes of Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash take a pro-civil liberties stance that horrifies the likes of Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mike Rogers. There is a huge divide in the Republican Party over this that echoes the rift between the libertarian movement and some of the more government-friendly elements of the conservative movement.
But there's an identical divide on the left and in the Democratic Party between civil libertarians and believers in the goodness of the state. Tomaskey briefly acknowledges that, "Yes, the subject of the national-security state gives liberals and Democrats fits. We're not 'supposed' to do or support this sort of thing, because we believe in and hew to certain civil-libertarian principles." But it's all OK because "[n]o one expects ethical behavior of [conservatives] in these arenas in the first place."
Umm … What? Aren't these NSA snooping revelations coming out under the Democratic administration of President Obama? Aren't they being defended by the bipartisan, ideologically separated at birth team of Rep. Mike Rogers, the (Republican) chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the (Democratic) chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee? On PBS, Mark Shields called out some of his "friends on the left" for supporting NSA spying.
And isn't this the moment when Politico is marveling at how opposition to snooping is uniting civil libertarians on the left and right?
If there's an interesting political development here, it's not the DOOM that shall ultimately befall the Republican Party as it wages war over itself, it's how this issue has exposed, again, a fault line that runs across American politics, separating comfortable authoritarians from overall advocates of personal freedom without regard to partisan divisions. People on either side of that divide may disagree over many aspects of policy, but they share a general preference for either state power or individual autonomy that, ultimately, is more important than a capital R or D, or Team Blue vs. Team Red. As Snowden himself pointed out, he was originally horrifed by surveillance state policies that he became aware of under the Republican Bush administration, and then "watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in."
Who "believe[s] in and hew[s] to certain civil-libertarian principles" again?
Tomasky notes that, within the GOP, "what used to be the Ron Paul–crank-libertarian faction, easily outnumbered by the neocons, is growing." If the vestigial civil libertarian faction of the Democratic Party can enjoy a matching boost from the NSA revelations, that would be an interesting political development.
In the meantime, we all continue to be subject to intrusive scrutiny from a massive and growing security state. And the fate of the guy who brought us the latest revelations is up in the air.