Failing the Edward Snowden Litmus Test

Allan Goldstein
RINF Alternative News

Ever since NSA’s illegal spying was leaked, we are required to have an opinion about the leaker. Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? It’s not so much a question as a litmus test.

If you think he’s a hero, you’re probably on the right wing or the left wing. Both groups are highly suspicious of government power for different reasons.

If you think that Snowden is a traitor you’re probably in the middle. You may be concerned about governmental overreach but you resent someone who takes the law into his own hands.

Both sides have a point and both sides miss the point. Snowden is neither a traitor nor a hero. He’s an embarrassment, clearly, as his antics in Russia show, serving up softball questions for his host tyrant to knock halfway to Kiev.

But the larger point is that what Snowden should be, in a representative democracy, isunnecessary.

What Snowden did? That’s John Boehner’s job, that’s Barack Obama’s job. We have, once again, been let down by our elected leaders.

When a democracy is working properly, politicians protect the people. The job of our elected representatives isn’t to persecute the whistle-blowers. It is to be the whistle-blowers.

Cops will always overreach. Their job is to catch the bad guys. Any constitutional restraints imposed on that mission will be resented, skirted and eventually, flouted. Even with the best of intentions “the authorities” will exceed their lawful mandates–and their intentions aren’t always the best.

Our elected leaders are supposed to ride herd on those fiefdoms. We need them to do that. We need to be able to trust them. Or one unelected guy takes it on himself to save us from the people we put into power in the first place.

What kind of government is it that makes us rely on a dorky, wannabe reality star hacker with a thumb drive and an airline ticket to expose the slime hiding behind truth, justice, and the American Way?

A bad government. A spineless government. A government we need to demand a lot more from.

It is the job of our elected leaders to protect us from abuse from unelected cops and spies. That takes courage in the face of real enemies. But courage is in short supply in the political class. Instead our politicians are generally complacent and often complicit in crimes against the people committed in the name of protecting the people.

And it’s not like the secrecy and conspiracies work for long, anyway. Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, The FBI dogging Martin Luther King–it all comes out sooner rather than later.

I am glad to know the dirty deeds Snowden exposed. Glad but not surprised. When I heard the news about the NSA metadata spying program I felt like a guy who knows his wife is throwing him a surprise birthday party and has to rehearse his “shocked face” so as not to disappoint the guests. I think we all kind of assumed the NSA and the CIA and the FBI had access to everything and weren’t shy about grabbing it with both hands.

But now, thanks to a morally ambiguous dude who’s currently hiding behind the rusty gates of what’s left of the Iron Curtain, we know for sure that the NSA is spying on everything and everybody.

So, what’s the point of this circular exercise in obvious revelation? How do we make better use of that information than the NSA did with the information it got by spying on us?

By demanding more from our politicians, for a start. I know, that’s a big job, but we have the power to do it. We elect these rascals and cowards, we can un-elect them. Together we have the power to insist upon politicians we can trust.

The power elites count on our disgust with politics. They want us hopeless and jaded because a cynical voter is a docile voter. The very idea of electing trustworthy politicians must be unimaginable to us, hopelessly utopian and idealistic.

But some people are fighting against that bleak vision. Their movement is called “The Politics of Trust.” If you want a reason to hope, I suggest you click on that link.

The Politics of Trust is building a community of voters who take a pledge not to vote for self-serving, untrustworthy leaders. It bridges the Snowden divide by reminding us that Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, our views don’t matter if our politicians constantly betray them.

Organizing together in groups like the Politics of Trust is precisely what we need to do if we’re to be more than data points on some NSA metadata chart.

What we don’t need is to make a hero or traitor out of hapless Edward Snowden and we surely don’t need to “bring him to justice.” What we need is justice for us.

The government we get is the government we deserve. And cynics get even less. We can drown ourselves in cynicism with each new, totally unsurprising, business-as-usual revelation of government wrongdoing. We can continue to feign shock at the latest dirty deed, then vote for the same spineless cowards who acquiesced to it, once again.

Or we can try a little harder to find some honest politicians. We can insist upon politicians we can trust.

At least that way, if our trust is betrayed, we won’t have to fake our horror. We’ll have earned it.

San Francisco based columnist, author, gym rat and novelist. My book, “The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie” is the best memoir ever written by a cat. For those seeking more detail on yours truly, the following is from my website,, where you can partake copiously, and for free.