Edward Snowden might be the most polarizing figure in America right now.
He teeters along the line between hero and villain. Some know exactly what box to put him in, and others are a little less sure. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, however, has his mind completely made up.
In a Good Morning America interview this Tuesday, the congressman from Ohio's 8th district did not hesitate to label the 29-year-old NSA whistle blower a "traitor." Boehner contextualized his remark by explaining that the disclosure of information concerning what the president has characterized as important national security programs to keep Americans safe puts citizens at unnecessary risk.
His sentiments are undoubtedly shared by millions of U.S. citizens. There are many Americans — in fact, a recent poll shows 62% of the nation — who would gladly sacrifice some privacy to the government in exchange for safety. And the Republican congressman believes that, if seen through to their entireties, the programs generated by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees could work effectively and maintain the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.
So clearly we know where Representative Boehner stands. But I wonder how he would comment on the acts of characters like Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department official who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, or Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who revealed the existence of Israel's weapons program to the British press in 1986. Would he call these figures traitors as well?
What if we flipped the script, and targeted Boehner as the American traitor for his endorsement of NSA surveillance of Americans? Through his advocacy of overbearing government insight into the personal lives of its citizens, is the representative admitting his advocacy of civil rights abuses? I think most people understand that the government isn't interested in the cat photos you've shared with your Aunt Sue, but for anyone who's ever expressed an edgy political dissent or critique of the intelligence establishment, this government presence is alarming. And those people are going to want congressional support if ever intimidated by government backlash.
So, with bolder stances and harsher labels being tossed around in what seems a faster, more frivolous manner, the gap between those who label Snowden a hero or a villain is doomed only grow wider. In the same way our partisan government forces us into two different ideological camps, advocates of either interpretation of Snowden's actions will soon be recruiting and slandering their way down the path towards legal action and reformation. Hero or villain: you will have to decide.