The Prometheus status in Rockefeller Plaza, by Flickr user paigeh

The Prometheus status in Rockefeller Plaza, by Flickr user paigeh

Reading this truly sappy open letter from Rebecca Solnit to Edward Snowden — and I write that as someone who has some sympathy for her view of Snowden, or would if it were phrased less cringe-inducingly — I find myself noting a rhetorical tic that seems to me pretty common on the Left. So consider this post a reminder to keep an eye out for it.

Notice that in Solnit’s denunciation of the U. S. government’s surveillance practices, the responsible parties, those named as problematic, seem to be a little out-of-date. “Privacy is a kind of power as well as a right, one that public librarians fought to protect against the Bush administration and the PATRIOT Act.” “It was clear on September 12, 2001, that the Bush administration feared the American people more than al-Qaeda.” Then this:

And you, Prometheus, you stole their fire, and you know it.

Aside: “you, Prometheus, you stole their fire”? Prometheus? I have read some absolutely wonderful stuff by Rebecca Solnit — her Wanderlust and River of Shadows are beautiful works of imaginative nonfiction — and wouldn’t have believed her capable of that sentence. Anyway, to continue:

You said, “Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, [Senator Dianne] Feinstein, and [Congressman Peter] King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.”

All of which raises the inevitable question: Why is the Bush administration targeting Edward Snowden? Oh wait.

In Solnit’s account, recent evil deeds haven’t perpetrated by any particular politicians, but by “Washington.” In another essay we see Solnit unable to criticize the current President without half-withdrawing the criticism by the end of the sentence: “Look, Obama does bad things and I deplore them, though not with a lot of fuss, since they’re hardly a surprise.”

But isn’t Solnit making “a lot of fuss” about the surveillance state whose gods have chained the New Prometheus to his Russian rock? Yes: but only naming the names of the mighty wicked ones of yore, not the ones who are actually responsible for pursuing Edward Snowden. President Obama’s administration, with his approval and that of his Attorney General, Eric Holder, are relentlessly extending the scope and the powers of the surveillance state, but somehow it’s all still Dick Cheney’s fault.