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Justin Amash: Snowden Is a Whistleblower

A Republican Congressman told Fox News [1] yesterday that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, and not a traitor—another clear example of the shifting conversation on civil liberties on the Right.

Fox host Chris Wallace, clearly skeptical, asked Justin Amash of Michigan directly: “You still consider him a whistleblower?”

“Yes,” replied Amash.

Amash stressed that Congress could not provide effective oversight without Snowden’s revelations: “Members of Congress were not really aware … about what these programs were being used for, the extent to which they were being used.”

Late last month, Amash proposed an amendment to strip funding for an NSA program that collects the telephone records of people in the United States. While the amendment failed–narrowly–the vigorous debate it prompted exposed deep divisions in both parties in the NSA debate: it’s not Republican versus Democrat but civil-libertarians versus security hawks. As Jim Antle explained [2] in TAC,

While the Tea Party was split down the middle, with many conservatives bucking the party leadership, civil libertarians on the left also revolted…Republican leaders can’t control the libertarians in their midst and are starting to conclude it’s better not to try. Civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are no longer allowing Barack Obama’s presence in the White House to keep them silent.

According to a Quinnipiac poll [3] released last Thursday, a majority of U.S. voters agree with Amash’s recent comments: 55% percent of respondents say Snowden is “more a whistleblower” than traitor, 34% “more a traitor.”

Particularly interesting is the shift in Amash’s own party that these polls have highlighted. As the Wall Street Journal noted [4], the Republican demographic has been one of the most drastically changing in recent years. In 2010, 72% of Republicans said counterterrorism did not go far enough, which had fallen to 46% by this summer. And according to last week’s poll, Republicans almost mirror national sentiment: 51% of Republicans label Snowden a whistleblower.


Crucially, the poll was conducted before Snowden accepted asylum in Russia. Whether that will change the public’s mood remains to be seen, but Amash remained circumspect on that question: “He may be doing things overseas that we would find problematic, that we would find dangerous. We will find those facts out over time,” he conceded. “But as far as Congress is concerned, he’s a whistleblower. He told us what we needed to know.”

Nor have the recent al-Qaeda threats and embassy closings [5]changed Amash’s mind; if anything, he says, these dangers should reinforce our wariness of expansive government powers:

“It’s precisely because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you could have national security justifications for violating people’s rights.”

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#1 Comment By Labropotes On August 5, 2013 @ 6:43 am

President Carter claimed in Atlanta a few weeks ago that there is no functioning democracy in the United States. This was widely covered here in the land of the free, right? The Economist “News Paper” in the latest issues says, “Few Americans have much sympathy for Mr Manning or Mr Snowden.” Very few indeed. Merely the majority.

Doin’ the propaganda rag.

#2 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 5, 2013 @ 7:43 am

After living through the police-state overkill subsequent to the Boston Marathon bombing and shoot-out, it has become clear to me that Homeland Security is the biggest threat to homeland security. A militarized police force arrived en masse, locked down the City of Watertown and shut down Greater Boston. All of this to capture a wounded, unarmed suspect who was found cowering in a boat by a local citizen after the lock down ended.

This end would have been better achieved by 2 Watertown cops with a bloodhound.

#3 Comment By SDS On August 5, 2013 @ 10:39 am


#4 Comment By Brian On August 5, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

Of the 51% of Republicans who see Snowden as a whistleblower, a hefty slice no doubt take that view simply because the revelations have embarrassed the hated Obama administration. Substitute a Romney administration, and the percentage calling for Snowden’s head would be much, much higher.

Similarly, an astonishing number of “progressives” say all this is no big deal, and trash Snowden, all because their man is in charge and they trust him.

This is undisguised tribalism and opportunity politics. Meanwhile, the number of people who still believe in the Republic and the rule of law keeps dwindling, and we become more and more marginalized.

#5 Comment By Essayist-Lawyer On August 5, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

There will be on the left certain civil libertarians who will want to limit the government’s power of surveillance, regardless of who is in power. Unfortunately, so long as a Republican is in charge and can warn about some external danger, they will be marginalized.

There are on the right people who believe that the greatest evil of government is that it can fall into the hands of Democrats. Now that a Democrat is in the White House, they fear that if the government is given too great sureveillance powers, they will be the targets. A coalition is born. The same thing happened when Bill Clinton asked for additional powers after the Oklahoma City bombing.

My conclusion: The combination most conducive to civil liberties is a Democrat in the White House, Republicans in control of Congress, and something that makes the right believe it could be the target. Once it became clear that Obama was not reversing Bush’s policies, I have wanted him to violate the rights of right wingers for that very reason.

#6 Comment By Cliff On August 5, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

Brian, there’s damn few people calling themselves “progressives” who trust Obama or consider him their guy.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 5, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

Thanks to Snowden and Manning, the threat level just went up to “ORANGE.”

But a threat to whom, the American people or the NSA and all the other agencies tapping into the unlawful total wiretapping, as their miscreant activities against the whole population are exposed?

#8 Comment By Scott Lahti On August 5, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

Anagrammatic post title:

Justin A. Whistlemash: Ned is a Snowblower

#9 Comment By Interested Commentator On August 5, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

I really admire Congressman Amash, but Congress should be able to conduct its oversight function without the public spillage of government secrets entrusted to an individual. The individual is now seeking asylum in a country that has consistently been one of the greatest enemies of individual prosperity and liberty.

#10 Pingback By Why the NSA Debate Will, and Must, Continue | The American Conservative On August 7, 2013 @ 7:00 am

[…] because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the Fourth Amendment,” he told Fox News. “The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you […]