Who’s The Traitor?

Despite a Congress that seems unable to function we can still count on its members to issue forth with unsettling remarks from time to time. Their hands may be tied by their unwillingness to cooperate, but you can’t tie their tongues. Unfortunately. The latest profound utterance comes from House Speaker Boehner:

House Speaker John Boehner today called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a “traitor” who put Americans at risk by releasing classified information to the media.

“He’s a traitor,” the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in an extensive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Boehner endorsed President Obama’s characterization of two programs, which allow the NSA to gather information about phone calls made in the U.S. as well as information on foreign suspects collected from major internet companies, as critical to the government’s ability to fight terrorism. He said that there are “clear safeguards” built into the programs to protect Americans.

You may recall that Snowden is the man who decided that it was in his country’s best interest to know what sorts of shenanigans their government is up to. And from what we read more revelations may be forthcoming. The man is consequently regarded as a traitor by this hard-line Republican who apparently knows what constitutes loyalty to one’s country — even though he is part of the contingent that has brought government to a virtual halt and seems to be bound to party, rather than the common good.

There are several problems with this story, of course. We might begin with the fact that this Republican leader is siding with a “liberal” Democratic president — strange bedfellows, indeed. Only a tad stranger is the fact that Democrat Dianne Feinstein has joined Boehner in calling Edwards a “traitor.” Talk is cheap.  If only they would cooperate on such vital issues as the economy and climate change. But more important is the fact that this sort of comment by Feinstein and Boehner clouds the issue of what constitutes true patriotism, loyalty to one’s country. When one is privy to information that one is convinced his fellow citizens are better off knowing — such as information about what their armies and navies are doing in the name of “Iraqi freedom”  — as in the case of Bradley Manning — or, as in this case, what their government is doing in the name of “national security,” then they feel a responsibility to tell what they know. And this despite the fact that they know they will be pilloried by people like John Boehner. Or they might even be court-martialed as is the case with Manning.

It is a tough call to determine what sort of information should and should not be made available to ordinary citizens who are probably better off being shielded from most of the ugly things the government is forced to do. And it may turn out, as Matt Miller suggested in a recent story in the Washington Post, that Snowden has a private agenda and is simply “indulging his precious conscience.” But as a general rule I tend to side with those who show the courage of their convictions and are willing to suffer serious consequences because their “precious” consciences demand that they do what they regard as the right thing. Given the stench that so often seems to come our way from the halls of government, one suspects that this country can withstand the fresh air that has been sent its way by the revelations about phone-tapping in the name of national security. Is it indeed the case that our nation is not secure? Really? After all, who is it exactly we fear? One senses that our leaders, not to mention self-styled “centrist” journalists like Matt Miller, are becoming a bit paranoid.