Conservatives are fascinating people, in part because of their eagerness to point out the faults of foreign regimes while turning a blind eye to the faults of their own government. A good example of this phenomenon occurred yesterday in an editorial published by the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Putin Media.”
The Journal took Russian President Vladimir Putin to task for closing down a state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti (whose subsidiary is in partnership with Dow Jones & Co, the owner of the Journal), and transferring its assets to Russia Today, which will be run by a “Putin loyalist” named Dmitry Kiselyyov.
Okay, fair enough. No one is ever going to accuse Vladimir Putin of being a libertarian or even a defender of free speech.
But what makes the editorial interesting is that the Journal used the Putin free-speech controversy to throw a dart at NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
How does the Journal relate the Snowden NSA controversy to the Putin free-speech controversy?
No, not in the way one might think — that is, not by comparing the tyranny of what Putin is doing to the tyranny of what the NSA is doing.
On the contrary, one gets the distinct impression from the editorial that these Wall Street Journal conservatives don’t object to the NSA’s massive super-secret surveillance scheme over the American people and the people of the world. What other conclusion can be drawn when the editorial refers to Snowden as “the stealer of U.S. security secrets” and to Greenwald has “his chief propagandist.” The Journal also accuses Snowden and Greenwald of denouncing America and Britain “for spying without revealing a single violation of law.” The Journal wants to know if Snowden and Greenwald are now going to also denounce Russia, since “these supposed stalwarts of transparency are apparently more comfortable in a country that won’t tolerate a free media.”
First of all, correct me if I’m wrong but my understanding is that Snowden is in Russia because the U.S. government canceled his passport and has threatened to jail him for life or even execute him for treason for exposing the NSA’s super-secret surveillance scheme to the American people and to the world. I thought freedom of travel was a fundamental right to which all people are entitled, including those who are supposed to be presumed innocent of a crime that a government is accusing them of.
And I’ve never heard either Snowden or Greenwald saying that Russia is some sort of bastion of free speech or other libertarian principles. My understanding is that given a choice between living the rest of his life in solitary confinement in a high-security U.S. federal penitentiary for doing nothing morally wrong or living in a society ruled by an authoritarian regime, Snowden has chosen the latter. My hunch is that there are lots of people who would make the same choice.
More fundamentally, however, is the way the Journal views the Russia government and the U.S. government. It’s able to recognize the wrongdoing of the Russian government but it obviously has a much more difficult time recognizing the wrongdoing of its own government.
After all, here you have a government agency secretly spying on its own citizens, not to mention most everyone else around the world. I’ll bet that if some Russian dissident disclosed that the Russian government was doing that, American conservatives would go ballistic with criticisms of how bad Putin’s regime is, and rightfully so.
In fact, didn’t conservatives criticize the secret surveillance schemes that were a hallmark of the Soviet communist regime as well as those in East Germany and Eastern Europe? Didn’t they also criticize the same thing about Nazi Germany when the surveillance was being conducted by the Gestapo? Why, I’ll bet that conservatives don’t even approve of the surveillance schemes of North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba.
But what makes conservatives so fascinating is that they are obviously unable to apply the same criticisms to their own government when it’s their own government doing the same things that totalitarian or authoritarian regimes do.
In fact, American conservatives aren’t really not that much different in principle from Russian conservatives, including Putin. American conservatives have the same devotion to what their own government is doing as Russian conservatives have with respect to what their government is doing.
Inevitably then, whether people who reveal national-security state secrets are looked upon as bad people depends on whether the conservative is a domestic conservative or a foreign conservative.
American conservatives look upon Russian dissidents as genuine patriots and heroes while Russian conservatives, like Putin, look upon them as subversives, terrorists, criminals, and traitors.
On the other hand, Russian conservatives look upon American dissidents, such as Snowden, as patriots and heroes while American conservatives look upon them as subversives, terrorists, criminals, and traitors.
What conservatives, both in Russia and America, can’t see is that wrong is wrong, whether the wrongdoing committed by some foreign government or by one’s own government. And it’s the duty of the citizen to right the wrongs being committed by his own government, as Snowden, Greenwald, and many Russian dissidents are doing, especially if he is going to point his finger at foreign regimes that are doing the same thing.