What an inane question it was to ask, at the CNN Democratic debate, whether Edward Snowden is either a "hero" or a "traitor." And what a shameful response from Hillary Clinton and every candidate aside from Bernie, whose implicit response was the only nuanced one: Snowden is both a hero and a traitor. He broke U.S. law to reveal our government's own breaking of U.S. law. Traitors can be heroes.
How revealing that the perpetrators of mass surveillance violating the Fourth Amendment -- from Cheney on down -- don't have to deal with the "traitor" question. That in CNN debates, in the mass media, this grand stigma -- traitor -- is reserved only for whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Does not subverting a key provision of the U.S. Constitution mean one is turning his back on our country's values? By contrast, doesn't revealing government overreach, intentional subversion of the values contained within our most cherished document, make one anything but a traitor? A patriot?
Snowden, if he ever returns to the United States, will be prosecuted. He will, in Clinton's words, "face the music." Acts of civil disobedience demand sacrifice; to change the law by breaking the law, one incurs moral responsibility, as great men from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. were only too aware of.
But let us not equate being labeled a criminal with being immoral. Let us not say that those who break the law cannot be heroes. The fugitive slaves who fled the South in antebellum America broke the law; so did the whites who facilitated the Underground Railroad. Yet they -- the fugitive slaves, the white lawbreakers -- were heroes. In every sense of the term.
To Hillary Clinton: Snowden is a traitor -- and a hero.