The last man in America is down and out in Hong Kong?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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John Boehner says Edward Snowden is a “traitor” for revealing information every citizen in America has a right to know — information that Speaker Boehner either didn’t know, himself (in which case, he was out of the loop and should be grateful), or did know (in which case, he is one of the elites who were complicit in misleading the public — and obscuring governmental transparency.)

In any event, we were all better off before Edward Snowden’s name came out. We were better off because, as Peter Daou tweets, “Insiders have closed ranks, public apathy provides cover, media spotlight now on Snowden.” The last part is crucial. Given the choice between discussing a story about the erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, or a weird leaker (and let’s be clear, whistleblowers are, by nature, going to be weird), the media will always choose the latter. It’s unclear why he came forward. Maybe he wanted attention? Maybe he thought he would be safer if we all knew he was out there…

But his arrival has only stepped on the story. For some reason, his education and age (29) have become relevant. “The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed,” writes David Brooks. Historically speaking, 29 isn’t all that young. Perhaps if youthful indiscretion is a problem, we shouldn’t be trusting all those eighteen year olds in uniform with guns, or with ballots, or with our private information to begin with ….

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Whistleblowers almost have to be weird, because most normally-adjusted people wouldn’t risk their lives, their freedom, their girlfriends — all for the honor of pissing off their country. There are no ticker tape parades or 72 virgins waiting for men like Edward Snowden. Most of us would have simply concluded that, yes, the game is rigged, yes, this is horrible…now let’s order another beer. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, if you don’t like your job, you  don’t leak; you just go in ever day and do it really half-assed.

It’s too soon to call him a “hero,” but “traitor” also seems a huge stretch. Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues that his leaks were entirely defensible. As far as I can tell, Snowden doesn’t appear to have endangered anybody — except himself. Heck, the most David Brooks can come up with is to say he hurt “social arrangements” and “invisible bonds.”

As Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story, has often noted, the terrorists already know their communication is being monitored. But the collection of our “metadata” is what makes this story newsworthy. And we wouldn’t even know about it if not for Snowden.

Matt K. Lewis