And now I can return to blissfully once again forgetting that The New Republic exists, re-joining virtually the entire rest of the world.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 19, 2014
I just finished reading an article in The New Republic and feel the need to take a shower.
Sean Wilentz’s attempted “exposure” of Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden is so incoherent, muddled, and, in the end, laughably trite that I actually forced myself to read it again. On the second reading, it just got worse. Somehow, opposing the NSA’s unprecedented surveillance is an attack on liberalism. Yep, you read that right. Somehow, a trio of very different people, an activist, a journalist and a whistle-blower/criminal, with transparently very different backgrounds, politics and agendas, all form something terribly dangerous to the liberal state.
Now I have lots of mixed feelings about Snowden and Assange, and have butted heads – usually productively – with Glenn for years now. And, yes, I think there’s more than a little utopian paranoia on the liberaltarian wing of those dedicated to our civil liberties. And I think Snowden should have taken his findings to the press in the US and if necessary, gone to trial, rather than run around the world seeking refuge in some truly unsavory places. But still, at the end of it all, as even Wilentz concedes, Snowden’s revelations did expose real over-reach by the NSA, and we are finally having a debate about the proper role of the surveillance state in the era of the Internet and global terrorism. More important: we would never have had this debate without him. So why all the hyper-ventilating about what the three musketeers of the anti-NSA campaign “truly believe” as if they hadn’t said so themselves a million times? Why the stupid graphics about the “heroism of fools”? Why the idiotic conceit that all three are somehow icons to every liberal in the West (when, quite clearly, they aren’t)? The great ringing conclusion of Wilentz’s cringe-inducing rant is the following:
They are right to worry, but wrong—even paranoid—to distrust democratic governments in this way. Surveillance and secrecy will never be attractive features of a democratic government, but they are not inimical to it, either.
So the huge conclusion of the piece is that it’s right to “worry” about surveillance but wrong to “distrust” democratic governments entirely. Yep you get to the end of a random assortment of anything and everything about Snowden, Greenwald and Assange that might make liberals wince to find that it’s right to “worry” but not to “distrust” the surveillance state. Seriously. There is no real argument here. There is certainly nothing new if you’ve been following this story. This, you realize, is just a classic smear. And that is all it is. A nasty, vicious, stupid smear. And you know what’s actually inimical to liberal discourse? Nasty, vicious, stupid smears. For a comprehensive take-down of this malicious, incoherent dreck, read Henry Farrell.
Today, I tried to make the positive case for persisting in the sole peaceful option for a nuclear-weapon-free Iran (as did Steven Walt). I reviewed the new HBO drama series about three gay men in San Francisco, Looking. We wondered if the latest data from the ACA showed that we still don’t understand the lives of the uninsured. And we published the latest numbers in our first subscription renewal drive.
And see you in the morning.