On a visit to Washington a couple of months ago, I was surprised to discover Politico has a dead-tree edition: there it was at the local Starbucks alongside the Washington Post and the New York Times, right next to the double-chocolate scones. As assorted government workers, policy wonks, and aspiring demagogues waited patiently in line for their morning double-nonfat-non-gluten cappuccinos, they leafed through their (free) copies with all the eagerness of the racetrack crowd perusing the Daily Racing Form. Future anthropologists who want to understand the political culture of Washington, D.C., circa 2013, will find a treasure trove in yellowing issues of Politico, the daily Washington news/gossip sheet that has displaced the ancient Roll Call and The Hill as the Imperial City’s chronicler of what’s hot and what’s not. Founded in 2007 by two Washington Post reporters, Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, Politico has the editorial (i.e. neoconish) feel of the WaPo, combined with the in-group snarkiness of a local gossip sheet.
Every in-group has its internal rules and regulations, its assumptions about what is right and good and what is beyond the pale – and regarding this last, what is clear is that disrespecting or in any way denigrating the wit and wisdom – never mind the authority – of our Wise Rulers is first on the list of Politico‘s Don’ts. Washington is all about secrets, and access to power: to reveal the former is to surrender the latter, and in Washington that is unthinkable. So instead of investigating the abuses of power, our "journalists" spend their days sucking up to Power, as is underscored in this Politico piece, entitled "The Leaker Who Won’t Stop Talking."
The title is a command: Snowden must stop talking. This is what every good little government worker, every supporter of the Regime, thinks about the Snowden affair. He should just shut up. After all, who are we to question the government if they want to "collect" all our phone calls and emails? They know stuff we don’t: it’s for Our Own Good.
It’s only natural for Politico to reflect the attitudes of its readers, who live and work primarily in the Washington, D.C. area. It makes perfect sense for the paper to view Snowden through a crudely political, non-ideological lens, that is, in terms of "image" and public relations packaging. So it’s only logical they would run around town asking public relations shills for this or that politician or special interest group how Snowden is handling his public relations imagery, and such a story – appearing in this venue – could have but one opening line, to wit:
"Edward Snowden is milking it.
"The briefly anonymous leaker has leaped into the public spotlight — and now he’s risking overexposure in a big way. Public relations pros and image makers say Snowden’s repeated interviews and growing number of claims are making him look like someone who’s exploiting his sudden worldwide fame for personal glory, and that threatens to undermine the very privacy crusade for which he said he’s willing to give his life."
This has been the strategy of the Regime all during the blizzard of revelations coming out of Snowden’s cache of secrets and Glenn Greenwald’s formidable pen: focus on the messengers in hopes of obscuring the message. That’s the whole point of this "story," the narrative they’re trying to sell to the American people: Google the word "narcissist" along with Snowden’s name and you’ll come up with the Washingnton elite’s theme song of the week. But even taken on its own terms, this non-argument makes little sense: how does elaborating on the revelations and answering questions that have arisen "undermine the very privacy crusade for which he said he’s willing to give his life"? Leave it to the "experts" to explain:
"’If I was advising him, the first thing I’d say is shut the hell up ’cause you’re not helping your cause,’ Jim Manley, a senior director at the D.C. public affairs firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates, told POLITICO. ‘I think he’s doing a pretty poor job," continued Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. ‘I don’t think his Q&A [Monday with The Guardian] made him any more sympathetic than he had been in the past. I think he is coming off as — leaving aside some of the issues he’s raising, which are fascinating — he’s coming across as petulant and arrogant and more than a little bit full of himself.’"
If you want to get an unprejudiced, unbiased, totally objective look at Snowden and his handling of the Datagate scandal, then who else are you going to ask but someone who has been a spokesman for none other than Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid (who cites polls on surveillance saying there’s enough congressional oversight)? And what other PR firm will you go to but Quinn-Gillespie, the quintessential "bipartisan" flack shop co-founded by GOP bigwig Ed Gillespie, formerly White House counselor and part of George W. Bush’s inner circle?
Next up is Eric Dezenhall, a self-described "crisis management expert" who "quipped" to Politico: "It’s almost as if he’s writing a screenplay at the same time he’s blowing the whistle." Pretty clever, eh? This Dezenhall fellow is another Oscar Wilde! Or, at least, that’s what passes for a "quip" in Politico‘s world. Dezenhall continues:
"I’ve noticed this trend of people generally saying out of one side of their mouth, ‘it’s not about me,’ but using ‘it’s not about me’ as a device for further making it about them. Well, if it’s not about you, why the hell are you doing interviews? To me, there’s something very packaged about him. I think that that’s intentional. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have points to make, but a lot of what I’m seeing at this stage in my career, 30 years, there’s a more cinematic quality to whistleblowers than there used to be."
Yes, that’s what I want to know, too: why is Snowden doing interviews instead of cringing before the almighty power and majesty of the American Leviathan? And of course Dezenhall is correct in noting that anybody who agrees to be interviewed about anything is only thinking about promoting their grimey little careers and garnering enough attention to satisfy their insatiable egos – it’s never about the message they’re trying to get across. At least that’s a fact in Washington, D.C. – and, ergo, it’s true everywhere.
This line of "thought" is to be expected from a typical Washington insider, whose summation of the Iraq war was: "We want to win wars, but we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings." Here‘s Dezenhall spinning the Bush years as Not All That Bad and the Iraq war as "not a meaningless struggle." And here he is hating on Cindy Sheehan, advising President Bush not to meet with her, and opining to Fox News that:
"One of the things that the American media doesn’t get picked up enough is the assumption that the whole objective of wartime communications is making Americans happy about the war. That is less than one half of it. Most of it is letting your adversary know, ‘We’re coming for you.’"
Who cares what the American people think? Only the Washington elite matters. That’s what Politico‘s favored "experts" believe. As in real estate, so in politics – it’s all about location, location, location.
Yet another Politico "expert," Marina Ein of Ein Communications, "told Politico that Snowden’s high-profile commentary looks like it’s just for show." Ein opines:
"He obviously was looking to create a situation where he could instantaneously be famous, and he certainly has done that. I think he’s accomplished exactly what he wants to accomplish — another version of Julian Assange syndrome, it’s leaking for fame."
Yes, but of course: that’s why Assange set up Wikileaks, risked retribution from Washington, became the target of a worldwide smear campaign, and finally had to take refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy – fame! Ditto in Snowden’s case. It takes a really high level of expertise to come up with such a brilliant scenario – about the same level of expertise it takes to be Gary Condit’s chief spokesperson during the Chandra Levy affair. That was the last time we heard from Ms. Ein, until she jumped ship on her client as his political career went down the tubes – but not before she slimed the slain Levy’s sexual history, according to two reporters, as consisting of a series of "one-night stands." (She denies it).
Ein is no better at damage control over the Snowden affair than she was during the Condit/Levy affair. If you want your damage controlled, I wouldn’t go to Ein Communications – would you? But then again, you probably aren’t a Washington insider, not if you’re reading this.
If you’re a couple of Politico reporters, however, and you’re scouting around for a quotable opinion, your first impulse is to latch on to the nearest political hack – or politico – and they did just that, citing former McCain campaign manager Rick Wilson as evidence that "Snowden has muddied any broader message about privacy and government transparency through his extended time in the spotlight." Says Wilson:
"He’s committed a bunch of unforced errors. When he became the story, it diminished what the stated mission is. When he turned it into a narrative about him, it’s more difficult for him to be sympathetic and effective at achieving his stated mission."
This is typical Republican-neocon methodology: invert the facts, and attribute your crimes to your enemies – who are, preferably, the victims. It isn’t Snowden but rather his enemies who turned a story about ubiquitous government spying on Americans into a "narrative" about a twenty-something "narcissist" with a hot girlfriend. Notice how neatly the line Davis is pushing complements the strenuous efforts of Obama cultist Bob Cesca and the staff of Mother Jones magazine to trivialize and downplay the extent of the spying and its implications for the future of American democracy.
The effort to smear Snowden as a "spy for China," or a "Russian agent," and obscure the shocking truth about America’s emerging police state is a bipartisan affair, as the above demonstrates. Washington elites hate whistleblowers, unless it’s one of their own doing the whistle-blowing on behalf of a purely partisan agenda. And they surely believe those folks "out in the cornfields" – as they invariably put it – need to be watched 24/7. It’s only when one of their own – say, a member of the Washington press corps – gets their emails read that they can manage to muster any outrage.
The mainstream media, the two political parties, and the entire Washington Establishment are lined up against a lone truthteller without resources, without sanctuary, and with only his voice to fight back. Of course they want him to stop talking. Their big problem, however, is that he isn’t shutting up. Even if they arrest him tomorrow, the secrets he gleaned are already out there – and there’s more to come.
All over the world, people are rising up in rebellion – and it doesn’t take much. The Arab Spring was set off when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in protest against police harassment. In Britain, it was the death of a black man at the hands of the police. In Turkey, the catalyst was government plans to demolish a park. It started in Brazil when the government raised bus fares. None of these precipitating issues, in themselves, were the real cause of the violent upsurges in these disparate regions: they were just the last straw, the culmination of a series of outrages that tipped the scales toward revolution.
One wonders: what will it take in America? We awake one morning to discover the IRS is targeting opponents of the President, and the next to the news that the National Security Agency is scooping up our phone calls and intercepting our online content – just in case they need it for future reference. All of this was preceded, of course, by two losing wars, one of which we were lied into and both of which we were tricked into. Not to mention the Great Recession of 2008, and the popping of the Greenspan Bubble, which enriched the crony capitalists who hang around Washington and impoverished homeowners and the middle class out in the cornfields.
Just as a side note, albeit a telling one, I’ll point out that among Rick Davis’s many PR triumphs, none remotely approaches the great coup pulled off by the "Homeowners Alliance," a front group for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the two biggest catalysts of the real estate bubble – which was created and managed by Davis. For the job of shilling for these two now nearly defunct "private-public" partnerships, whose debts cost the taxpayers trillions, Davis was paid $30,000-plus a month over the course of five years. The Homeowners Alliance disbanded when it became clear that not even the best PR firm in the world could cover up the damage done to the economy by these two wards of the federal government.
Why bring this up? After all, what does Davis’s career as a defender of the two biggest factors leading to the real estate bust have to do with his denigration of Snowden? The answer is: plenty. Davis, and the rest of the Washington bigshots cited in the Politico piece, are all from the same milieu: they are denizens of the political class, whose geographic base is the Washington area (with an important outpost in metropolitan New York). As the power and reach of government grows, crony capitalism has displaced good old fashioned American entrepreneurship as the quickest way to riches – and these folks, the smart folks, are enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of the country. Now they sit around in their gorgeously renovated Georgetown condos, wondering why the peons in flyover country are up in arms – after all, what’s the problem? Times are good for them, as government expands and their pathetic little careers take off. Who cares if the government is reading our emails when you’ve just landed another fat PR contract from some rich sleazeball?
It’s all about class – the government class versus the rest of us. The former may be outnumbered, but they have the resources – and the loudest and most vigorous advocates – while the majority is voiceless. Except now they aren’t: one man, a 29-year-old former spook and apparent libertarian, has stepped forward to give voice to the heretofore silent majority and rescue our liberties from the warlords of Washington. One man had the courage to speak truth to power and act on his principles: in some dictionaries, that’s called "narcissism." In mine, it’s called bravery.
Americans must send a message to Snowden, one that will also be immediately noted and understood by our nervous rulers: Ed, we’ve got your back!
That’s why it’s so vitally important for you to sign the White House petition to pardon Snowden. It’s the least we can do for a man who sacrificed everything so that Americans might wake up and restore the Constitution. The petition, started by an anonymous person from Rochester, New York, with the initials "P.M.", immediately took off, with over 50,000 signatures in the first 48 hours, but it is now stuck at around 85,000 – with until July 9th to reach a total of 100,000, and thus earn an official White House response. Topping 100,000 – even after they raised the threshold from 60,000 – would score a huge public relations coup for the cause of civil liberties and force the White House to acknowledge the popularity of Snowden’s cause.
The success of the petition will also have a cascading effect on legislation – such as Sen. Rand Paul’s "Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013" – designed to rein in Big Brother.
Please sign the petition now – every signature counts!
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).