Writing at The New York Post, William McGurn slams libertarian politicians and various unnamed folks at Reason (Hi, Mom!) for lionizing Edward Snowden, "a man who's wanted for espionage against the United States…and is now living off the hospitality of Vladimir Putin." (Disclosure: Back in the day, McGurn wrote several pieces for Reason, including a crackerjack article about how protectionism in the Philippines deformed life there and this one about Hong Kong under British rule.)
Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Justin Amash—they're deluded, don't you see, because Snowden is no kind of hero, says McGurn:
While he may not have delivered these [state] secrets to Russian handlers or drop sites the way those from Alger Hiss and Aldrich Ames to Robert Hanssen did, he had them published where all our enemies could read them. And we have only his word he's not now working for Putin.
The libertarians who champion Snowden will claim that the secrets he published were embarrassing to the government but not damaging to our security.
Say you oppose the NSA program and believe it a good thing it was exposed. Does that make Snowden is a hero?
If the answer is yes, ask yourself this: Was Sammy "The Bull" Gravano — a hitman with the Gambino family — also a "hero" because he coughed up secrets that helped take down John Gotti, the "Teflon Don"?
It's an elementary distinction, between those who honorably serve our nation and those who betray her.
The libertarian inability to make it with Ed Snowden helps explain why libertarians have a long ways to go before the American people will ever elect one president.
It's true that Snowden is not wildly popular with most Americans, at least according to surveys. This NBC poll from last year does show that 32 percent of millennials supported him while 20 percent who did not. But that's just the kids. Overall, Americans view Snowden in "a negative light" by a 2-to-1 margin, with 27 percent disliking him and just 13 percent giving him a thumbs up. By the same token, that's better than results in 2013, when 36 percent disapproved and just 11 percent approved. If that trend keeps up, Snowden may be able to come back home in a decade or so to a hero's welcome.
Does a predisposition toward a whistleblower who revealed massive, systemic, and unconstitutional surveillance by the U.S. government mean that "libertarians have a long ways to go" before a person with a principled commitment to "Free Minds and Free Markets" will ever occupy the White House? Sure, why not.
Though speaking only for myself (as libertarians are wont to do), I care less about who occupies the White House and more about the enactment of policies that actually reduce the size, scope, and spending of government. We saw a relative flattening of government spending over the past few years (and during the Bill Clinton years) not because of particular individuals but because of larger dynamics that changed the way things were done. Ideas matter more than individuals. And reality matters more than rhetoric. Under the Bush years, we had a president and a Congress led by people who talked incessantly about the virtues of limited government and the need to get the goddanged government back to the proper size. That didn't lead to anything except for record-setting spending, wars of choice that inflicted untold damage on countries we're still bombing and occupying, and a general discrediting of the U.S. around the globe.
More to the point, perhaps, what does it mean for conservatives that a discussion of Edward Snowden quickly turns to the invocation of traitors whom even McGurn grants are completely distinct from Snowden in terms of methods and motivations? As Bob Dylan paraphrased Dr. Johnson, "Patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings." Except, of course, when it's the first.
Weirder still is the idea that the experience of a Mafia hitman working a plea deal sheds any insight into Snowden's actions or his appeal to libertarians. Whatever else you can say about Snowden (and for god's sake, watch the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, which is now on HBO), he is paying a steep price for his actions (unlike Gravano, who avoided both being killed by Gotti and put in prison for life by the feds). And surely it is noteworthy that even a White House-appointed review team agrees that the NSA programs revealed by Snowden don't, you know, actually stop terrorism (which for President Obama doesn't seem to be enough of a reason to actually stop bulk collection of our phone data).
I admire Edward Snowden because he revealed crimes against you, me, and every other American. He didn't do it because he was being paid by our enemies and it's far from clear that he's screwed our ability to protect ourselves. Both Republicans and Democrats have lied to us about surveillance and all sorts of other things. Of course the guy who blows the whistle on such a scam is going to be unpopular, at least at first. But if one price of living in truth is that it's going to take a little longer for a libertarian to reach the White House, well, that's kind of a bargain, isn't it?