Snowden The Insufferable? (Updated.)

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus takes on (again) the Edward Snowden saga, in a peculiar and, in the larger sense, fairly revealing way.

I haven’t followed the Snowden story closely.  I think it’s significant, but not as significant as it’s been played.  I am more surprised that people seem so surprised and shocked that we have federal government intelligence gathering agencies that collect – well – just about everything, than I am surprised at the fact that there are such agencies and that they have such capabilities. 

If that makes any sense.

Sorry to dwell on myself with a string of ‘I’ sentences, but I’m trying to be clear about where the opinion I’m writing down here is coming from.  So if you’re reading and interested please bear with the seeming ego-centricity a bit longer.

I’m a veteran of the cold war.  We had a lot of newly minted intelligence gathering capabilities in the 1980’s, especially of the electronic variety.  In fact, we already gathered massively more intelligence information than we could ever hope to adequately “analyze”, which is at least as important as having the information to begin with.  Accordingly, I have never in my adult life believed that any phone conversation or email was safe from being surveilled by government agencies any time someone felt like it.

Of course it is obvious, or should be, that in the time since I was professsionally familiar with federal government intelligence gathering capabilities those capabilities have greatly – not to say exponentially -expanded.  That was inevitable, and anyone could have seen it, even 30 years ago.  Easily.

But it should be just as obvious that the ability to analyze the information, while it might have improved marginally due to sophisticated technological assist, has undergone no such transformation.  We’re getting massively surveilled all the time, but that doesn’t mean anyone really knows anything.  We can dig up huge amounts of information about anyone – after the fact.  But frankly, we could have done that before, too.

Back in the cold war there was a nuclear disarmament movement.  It’s a nice sentiment, I suppose, but in the end it’s a silly idea.  We could destroy every nuclear weapon on earth or launch them into outer space.  Someone could still manufacture a whole bunch more tomorrow.  Including us.

You can wish things to be other than they are.  But things will remain as they are.

So, back to Snowden and the WaPo take on the whole thing.

If you read the linked article carefully it substantively endorses what Snowden did and is in agreement with him.  But stylistically, it’s a snide exercise in character assassination: 

…smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought.

Really, Ruth?  I’ve caught clips of Snowden being interviewed.  Seems like a nice young man to me, but I wouldn’t go too far out on a limb either way.  Why do you?

There’s a frightening mindset at work here, and it isn’t Snowden’s.

The beltway opinion about “whistleblowers” is that they are outliers who make a splash but are not capable of effectuating “meaningful change”.  Meaningful change, of course, comes about as the result of engaging in the process that makes the beltway what it is:  you manipulate the right people cultivate inside support, you bribe lobby, you fake obtain “grass roots” enthusiasm, you pitch the sale, and you close the deal only after your original purpose has been cut, pasted and compromised into unrecognizability.  Then the approved pundits and “journalists” see if they can get a lot of heated opinions going among the morons in fly-over country, which distracts them from their miserable lives, generates viewership and revenue and enables the beltway insiders to feed off their host for a little while longer.

And so this is the real problem with Snowden.  Not what he did, but how he did it.  He’s a threat to the whole system, but not the way you think.  The real problem is bypassing the beltway shuffle; all the harangue about government surveillance is a sideshow, but it’s a galling one because…he was also right to bring attention to the issue.  Inside the beltway they hate it when people they don’t like have the gall to be right.

And that’s what the WaPo article really says.  Isn’t that revealing?

One last point.  Overwrought?  That is the last adjective that could reasonably be applied to Snowden, at least from the clips I have seen.  If anything, he seems almost abnormally subdued under the circumstances.  But that does not deter beltway people.  They love making obviously incorrect “observations” about people and then making them stick through sheer media monopoly group-think.  At least, they stick among all the People Who Matter, which is to say….them.

That’ll show that smarmy Edward Snowden.

UpdateSo now the New York Times weighs in.  Which is, you know interesting.  They don’t disagree with Snowden either; in fact, they think he did the right thing.  So they’re looking for some sort of clemency or amnesty.

Of course, Daniel Ellsberg went to trial.  The judge threw out the government’s case eventually, which ordinarily would never happen but in those days the New York Times was cover enough for a federal judge to buck the government.

I don’t know.  Maybe the only lesson here is that a government whistle blower will get a better reception at the New York Times and a Wall Street whistle blower will fare better with the Washington Post.  Both big papers, in other words, protecting their turf more than anything else.




Filed under Media incompetence/bias

9 responses to “Snowden The Insufferable? (Updated.)

  1. A very interesting perspective on the interaction between Capitol Hill and the media in devising character assassination.


  2. People in “fly over country” do not have miserable lives – even when we get 24 inches of snow and/or below zero weather.


  3. Dago

    Excellent comment. Congrats on avoiding the mass brainwashing.


  4. You hit on something that I noticed about Snowden from the start: his calmness. Ironically, “abnormally subdued” is just about the last description that would have come to my mind, because what I’ve always found so striking about Snowden is how normal he seems. In interviews, he’s poised, perfectly cool, thoughtful, and well-spoken. He appears as well-adjusted as anyone I’ve ever known. Additionally, by all accounts his tradecraft as a whistleblower was very thorough and competent. He’s anything but another Julian Assange.

    It’s hard to exaggerate how much Snowden’s calmness and general normality set him apart from the Beltway establishment. The neurosis, insecurity, self-seriousness, and cutthroat social climbing of officials and hangers-on at all levels of the Beltway establishment are indescribable. I have a close friend who lives a few blocks north of the White House, and I can see this disturbing temperament in passersby on the streets every time I visit him. He agrees with me that there’s an anomalously large number of neurotics in DC and NoVa. It’s bizarre to see a horde of mentally unhealthy-looking functionaries flooding out of a Metro station at rush hour, every one of them within sight wearing an ID lanyard. It’s dystopian.

    These people are smaller parts of the same fractal that has given us Hillary Clinton, Ruth Marcus, the Obamas, Jay Carney, Wolf Blitzer, Larry Craig, Michele Bachmann, ad nauseam. Many of the same horrible pathologies that can be found in low-level federal staffers and think tank wonks can be found in presidents, congressmen, and leading members of the Washington press corps. The sickness scales up beautifully. It’s particularly hard to grasp just how little self-reflection there is in these cohorts: grunts at right-wing think tanks commuting on Metro trains to jobs advocating the daftest of cuts to other cities’ public transit systems; chronic adulterers like Newt Gingrich and closet cases like Larry Craig lecturing Bill Clinton on sexual morality; tendentious, breathless stories about the petty rudenesses of politicians, filed by journalists who spend their weekends falling down drunk in public; and, of course, Ruth Marcus, one of the most passive-aggressive, supercilious scolds in public life today, lecturing Ed Snowden about court manners.

    Marcus is as disgusting as they come. Even when I agree with the substance of her arguments, I cannot stand her tone. She’s a sniveling, censorious authoritarian whose shtick is that of a prim, easily offended aunt telling her nieces and nephews to shut up and stop airing the family’s dirty laundry. Snowden exposed rampant official criminality in an unaccountable national security state, and now she’s flipping her shit because he offended some people (e.g., Ruth Marcus) by not playing nice with the powerful and abiding by their arbitrary and stacked sets of rules. Hers is a deeply dysfunctional and evil attitude, and a destructive one because it’s more than just an occasional curiosity in official Washington, but rather an extreme manifestation of the norm. It’s the politics of an abusive family played out on a national scale.

    Snowden doesn’t just stand out from his critics in DC by seeming so mentally, morally, and intellectually sound. He’s also an autodidact and a product of genuine meritocracy being set upon by an establishment that values institutional education, credentialing, cronyism, flattery, dues-paying for its own sake, and all sorts of other political qualifications over practical ones. Given how desperate Beltway social climbers are to get themselves and their children into prestigious schools and jobs, they may find it embarrassing to be outmaneuvered by a guy who dropped out of high school, taught himself computer networking, took some community college courses, and had six-figure jobs running federal IT systems by the age of thirty. He makes them look foolish for exhausting themselves so in their political rat race.

    And, as you said, they’re sore that he stirred up a big stink using back channels that they didn’t approve and can’t control. Everything about him sends the wrong message to future generations of courtiers.


    • Thank you for the very interesting comment.

      Speaking of interesting, I’ll link to your blog even though I don’t understand a lot of it. The gist of it, I think I do. I think. Whatever, you write very interesting stuff there and elsewhere.

      That said, we’re hardly the first to notice pervasive beltway pathology. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was 1939 and caused a scandal because it was only portraying what everyone thought anyway.

      Speaking of movies, I saw Scorcese’s Wolf of Wall Street last night. Disappointing, at least for me. It was Goodfellas in a different context, really just the same movie – complete with abundant narration by the main character, which is normally considered cheating in story telling on film – but nowhere near as good. But I do appreciate that Scorsese just shows what happens and lets the viewer draw his own conclusion.

      Even so, for present purposes the thing about Wall Street pathology and K Street pathology is how much they have in common. Worshipping power and worshipping money boil down to the same thing, just a slightly different emphasis, with Washington more about the former and Wall Street more about the latter.

      The horror of representative democracy is that it’s set up to bestow power upon those who most fervently seek it, whereas fervently seeking it should be a disqualification from ever having it. A lot of free marketers don’t seem to notice that Wall Street is pretty much the same thing in a different context and venue. I’m a free marketer myself, I suppose, but I don’t think you can have free markets without the rule of law just as I don’t think you can have freedom generally without the rule of law.

      Thanks for coming over here and reading and commenting. I spent too much time reading your writing this morning, but I enjoyed it. Still, I have work to do. 🙂


    • Just one more thing. Based on your comments here I think you might enjoy this post, with the comments:

      Liked by 1 person

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