Why are so many progressives okay with spying under Obama when they weren't under Bush?

Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks have recently revealed an interesting and disturbing trend among people on the left. Many, rather prominent people, on the liberal/progressive circuit have roundly condemned Edward Snowden as a traitor for leaking the classified PRISM program of the NSA. What I find strange is the fact that I widely expected progressives to be in defense of Snowden. Sadly, this has not been the case.

The target of this critique is not the Obama Administration or members of Congress. Those are people I expected to be against the NSA leaks. The ones I critique are those who are not part of the power structure.

Many of the former Obama appointees who now contribute and anchor on MSNBC have come out to defend PRISM and attack Snowden. Even anchors such as Bob Scheifer, David Gregory and Lawrence O’Donnell have helped to reinforce a certain narrative about Snowden as being “just an IT guy” and someone of no real importance. Granted O’Donnell has not gone as far as to call Snowden a traitor, but he certainly hasn’t been defending him all too well either.

Many progressive/liberal commentators and writers such as Jeffrey Toobin, Thomas Friedman, and Geoffrey R. Stone (who have written for sites like the Huffington Post and the New York Times) have recently come out to roundly denounce Snowden as a narcissist who quote “deserves to be in prison.”

What surprises me about the vitriol directed at Snowden from many of these “progressives” is that they were quite willing to denounce the former Bush Administration for the same actions they now feel are necessary under Obama. Geoffrey Stone in fact wrote a book in 2004 titled “Perilous Times: Free Speech in War Time from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terror”, in which his central thesis was that as Stone puts it;

”One of the important lessons is that if American citizens want to have the freedoms that are guaranteed to them, they cannot sit back passively and allow elected officials and judges to protect their rights for them. It’s very important for the American people to recognize that if they want their freedoms―want their liberties―they have to take responsibility for preserving them in these times.

snowden2The issue here is that many on the left are so willing to accept the Obama Administration’s and Congress’ line when it comes to Snowden and the NSA, when just a few years ago things were very different. If a program was leaked by someone like Snowden in the same nature as PRISM under the Bush (or any Republican) Administration, the left would probably be unified in outrage and would demand said administration’s head on a plate.

Granted, not everyone on the left is critical of Snowden. Glenn Greenwald was the one who broke the story, and he is a staunch progressive. However, when guys like Glenn Beck and Rand Paul start making more sense than someone like Lawrence O’Donnell, we as progressives have to start questioning exactly what path we are going down.

The main question I have is why liberals and progressives, who are not supposed to blindly accept authority and be more open to inquiry, are so willing to blindly accept and trust the government line. It seems many liberals (much like Republicans in reverse) are simply defending the NSA because the Obama Administration is. Much like the conservatives under Bush, liberals under Obama are defending “their president” right or wrong. Does anyone else besides me see something wrong with that sentiment?

Progressives should be more willing to support someone like Snowden, and the odds are they’d be on Snowden’s side if a Republican were president right now.

Democrats shouldn’t be taking the opposite position of a few conservatives simply for the sake of blindly following the party. Liberals used to think for themselves regardless of the views of Beck and Paul, even still, polar opposites have been known to agree from time to time.

We should be more willing to challenge the party and not accept what the Administration does simply because a Democrat is in office. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard than the right.



  1. It has been suggested by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz that Snowden should have developed a rapor with a few Congressmen over time and gotten them to understand what the government was doing wrong in the PRISM spy program conducted by “Private” Corporate Subcontractors. First of all, Congressmen won’t see see him unless he was representing a big corporation. And second, NSA is monitoring all electronic contacts with Congressmen. Third, this adminsitration has a long track record of putting whistleblowers in the slammer or causing them to commit suicide in at least one case (Aaron Swartz). Uncle O’Toma is an “owned brand commodity.” He’s Penny Pritzker’s Pride on the “Fast Track” to building a “Legacy Library.”

  2. Comparing Snowden to Ellsberg is a case of apples to oranges’. As much as many of us dislike what is going on, it certainly appears that unfortunately all of this is perfectly legal under the Patriot Act and Pfizer Court. Nothing that Snowden or Greenwald has released appears to be illegal. It may be unethical, far reaching, intrusive, etc. but not illegal.
    Ellsberg on the other hand released documents that clearly showed that a war was being fought under false pretenses, that the country was being intentionally misled to the cost in both blood and treasure, and that a false narrative was being created by the most senior of military and elected officials..
    In a New York Times editorial, it stated ” these documents demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”.

  3. It doesn’t matter who is in office but they should be doing this “info gathering” legally- with a warrant. No, I don’t see/ hear black helicopters/ or see drones overhead & if I did I would think “well, o.k.- something is going on.” The same reaction when I see the police streaking down our roads.
    I am a Dem & was outraged back in 2003 & somewhat in 2013. It is NOT due to Presidential changes ( I can’t convince you of that ) but due to Obama doing this in a legal way.
    I don’t feel any of my Civil Liberties are gone- maybe tweaked a bit but for our own security ( we don’t know what any Pres knows about what is transpiring globally) so I am willing to forgo that 4th Amend. If I were a terrorist- I would be somewhat afraid as the USA will not stop for anything at anytime. ( in the far future for example)

    • It’s not about you personally. If you decided one day to defy a republican president, based on current laws what is to stop him from hacking and tracking your data and correspondence? All terrorists know Uncle Sam is watching them! Yet since when did the general public of America count as terrorists? PRISM targets general data, not specific people. You may not feel infringed now, but you in many ways have just validated the point of the article. You were outraged when these programs were conducted under Bush, but when they are conducted under Obama its no big deal? It’s always a big deal, and we shouldn’t allow party affiliation to diverge that.

  4. As an American liberal, I beg to differ with the opinion that all liberals support the PATRIOT Act now as opposed to under George W. Bush. Most of the liberals I know hated it then and we hate hate it now. We’re tired of being told our civil liberties must be sacrificed to be safe. The problem is, as my dad put it, when Bush destroyed the 4th Amendment, we on the left believed our side was too decent to ever misuse that power. And since this has truly been going on for over 3 decades, the only problem I have with Edward Snowden is why he is being called a “whistle blower” when nothing he revealed is illegal. Should it be? Absolutely, but thanks to our do-nothing congress and two parties who are drunk on power, it never will be. I’d also like to point out that it seems extremely disingenuous for Mr. Snowden to travel to countries where free speech is practically illegal. If he is a hero, as some on the far left and libertarians believe, why isn’t he here? Daniel Ellsberg, a true whistle blower, didn’t run all over the globe, financed by millionaires.

    • Nothing Ellsberg released was technically illegal, yet it was grossly unethical and needed to be brought to the public. Whistleblowers don’t just have to release illegal material. Yes PRISM is technically legal, but the 4th amendment states clearly the contents of what PRISM collects is unconstitutional. Someone’s private emails and phone calls are not public domain info, yet that is the target of the PRISM program. The government can hack your email without your knowledge and without a warrant or court order, so any correspondence you have had with anyone can come under scrutiny. The 4th amendment protects against unwarranted searchs and seizures by the government.

      • the Govt HAS to comply with “the rules of law” they must have a warrant unless someone on FB or Twiiter leaves a compelling death threat- of which I have heard many to several officials ( D or R) That was Bush who could hack anywhere – anytime even w/o probable cause!

        • Yes, the PATRIOT and AUMF laws give the executive branch the ability to hack your emails and phone records without a warrant or court order, that’s what the fuss is about. And secondly, Snowden released the info to Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian, he did not release it to China or Russia, that is an outright government lie. This entire fiasco is meant to distract from what Snowden released. Bush did it and so can Obama! Assuming that Obama would never do it because he’s a Democrat is just wishful thinking. Obama is not dismantling these programs, so what if in the next election we get a right-wing Republican who makes it a priority to track and tap all liberal/left-wing groups opposed to him? If its done in secret, no one will know about it, and if you leak any info on such a track than the government can easily label you a traitor the way they did Snowden. This is a slippery slope that can lead to drastic consequences.

  5. Maybe it’s just because it’s not new to us anymore. We already know big brother is watching, and just because the brother in the WH changed, once that door is open, it stays open.

    • Snowden’s leaks did not expose the fact that the government was spying, that we already knew vaguely about yes. Its HOW the government is spying, the mechanisms and practices they use to carry out the spying. The problem here is if Romney was elected president, and this info was exposed progressives and liberals would probably not be acting so nonchalant about it. People on the left would probably be unified in outrage, yet only when info like this comes out under a Democratic president is when liberals act like its not a big deal. It should be a big deal if either a democrat or republican does it.

      • I personally think makes him a traitor is NOT telling the American people but China, Russia & perhaps Cuba & whatever country he ends up in. I , as of now, could give a flying monkey what he did as we as Americans should have known this aka Bush. But to trade or barter his amnesty in another country for his info is being a traitor & puting us at risk globally & our enemies will become even harder to deal with. Maybe another “cold war” with Russia/ China?

  6. I question the premise of this whole piece.
    I think there is FAR more outrage, far more press, far more ‘public sentiment’ in the light of these revelations than there was when the actual plans for this and similar operations were reported in connection with the NAS/AT&T connection in 2005-06…

    I think “Snowden” is a cypher, a ‘breitbartian’ figure, a distraction.
    Woody’z of the opinion that “Snowden” is window-dressing, a side-show, a distraction, a bright, shiny thing.
    What’s important is what very few stories have ever even mentioned:
    The more than TWO THOUSAND “private” security/intel corpoRations like Booz-Allen which employ nearly a MILLION agents and analysts at Gummint expense (the majority of which have popped into existence since 2001, run by former high-ranking US Military Intel officers), who snoop and report to the Gummint –but who knows what happens to the data once THEY’VE got their claws on it. They may ‘forward’ their work to NSA, or the FBI, or one or another of the NINETEEN gummint agencies which surveil for “baddies,” but they certainly keep the data, too.
    Their budgets are secret. Booz Allan made reported nearly SIX BILLION DOLLARS in revenue, last time they reported anything, and they’re just one of 2000 such shops.
    And that data doesn’t just magically “go away” once collected ana analyzed. It hangs around, for future–maybe NON-gummint–purposes.
    This arrangement goes back to 1981, just in case yer curious.

    • Ok, well you’re not saying much I disagree with overall. The reason why Snowden has become a “sideshow” is because the government and media is making him that way to distract from the information that he leaked. The problem is so many people on the left who would have been outraged if this came to light in 2003 are not so outraged about it in 2013, or at least act as if it’s not that big of a deal. We should be concerned no matter what president is in office, and the sideshow that has accompanied Snowden was the government’s creation, not Snowden’s/

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