When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke before progressive activists at the Netroots Nation recently, she became a symbol of a split lurking within the Democratic and Republican parties that could impact the 2016 Presidential race.
The reason: Pelosi was booed in a seeming throwback to the 1960s, when the Democratic Party’s left wing perceived the government run by its party as an almost evil, dangerous force, pitting anti-war Democrats against the more professional politician types. Democrats have battled each other over military issues under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and during the primaries for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination.
Pelosi’s sin? She had dared to diss a person who has become a hero to many in the Democratic Party’s left wing grassroots and in the Republican Party’s non-establishment right wing grassroots: Edward Snowden, the former NSA contract worker who leaked information that NSA collects data from millions of Americans with the cooperation of several large internet and telecom companies, and that Great Britain’s intelligence agency GCHQ monitored delegates’ phones. He’s the latest to join the ranks of what writer Robert Levine calls “the transparency Messiahs,” who “saw themselves as above the law, self-appointed messiahs able to make policy decisions over and above the elected officials of these nations.”
Pelosi’s sin was to say there’s a need to balance privacy and security and noting that Snowden “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents.” For stating this fact Pelosi was booed and someone even yelled “You suck!”
The split among Democratic liberals on Snowden runs deep. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has called for Snowden to be prosecuted “because he violated the law, he violated America’s trust, he jeopardized millions of Americans.” Liberal talker Ed Schultz riled his listeners by saying Snowden is no hero or typical whistleblower, and if he was a patriot he’d come home and face the music since he has so many supporting him in the United States.
Liberal blogger Oliver Willis wrote: “ Two separate dispatches from Edward Snowden on Monday have continued to unravel the wannabe whistleblower and show him to be something of a simpleton in the way he views the world. In the real world countries spy on each other. This practice is not limited to enemies or countries with hostility to each other, but even allies spy on each other to keep up with the Joneses. But for guys like Snowden — and Bradley Manning and [Glen] Greenwald — this is too much for them. The Great Satan (America) must never spy on others.”
In the GOP, there’s now a split between libertarian-inclined Republicans who admire Snowden’s actions and strong-on-defense Republicans who consider him a traitor. This could impact both parties’ races for the 2016 presidential nomination because for some voters it’ll be a litmus test. Nuance doesn’t play well in primaries, so some voters in both parties could demand candidates declare one priority: private at all costs or security at all costs? Polls find Americans divided on Snowden’s actions, with younger voters being more inclined to feel he did the right thing.
Lost in the reports about Snowden, his interviews, his possible motives and people choosing sides is the question of the damage his revelations may have done — and could do. An ABC News report began with this: “As the U.S. intelligence community struggles to complete a damage assessment over the secret information allegedly stolen by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, sources told ABC News there is a growing consensus within the top circles of the U.S. government that the 30-year-old contractor could deal a potentially devastating blow to U.S. national security,”
If a future terrorist attack that matches or tops 9/11 occurs because Snowden’s leaks removed existing prevention measures, or tipped off American’s must brutal enemies, look for the bulk of Americans to boo members of the Edward Snowden fan club.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran newspaper journalist.