DE GRACIA: Edward Snowden and America's constitutional lawyer-in-chief

The Snowden scandal has devastated U.S. diplomatic credibility and moral advantage. Photo: President Obama was the idealist's favored candidate in 2008. What happened? (White House Photo)

HONOLULU, June 24, 2013 – When voters selected Barack Obama as the candidate of change in 2008, there was genuine hope among Americans that the post-9/11 security state of surveillance, indefinite detention and unlimited war would be rolled back.

In The Audacity of Hope, an idealistic Obama wrote “The Cold War techniques of secrecy, snooping, and misinformation, used against foreign governments and foreign populations, became tools of domestic politics, a means to harass critics, build support for questionable policies, or cover up blunders. The very ideals that we had promised to export overseas were being betrayed at home.”

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Strangely, the liberal left showed token outrage when now-President Obama praised the controversial practice of data mining and cell snooping in a San Jose press conference earlier this month, using talking points reminiscent less of a grassroots civil rights activist and more of an establishment defender.

Obama’s transition from liberal idealist to political insider is a terrible blow to “social justice” in America. Because Obama did not make good on his idealism but instead amplified the policies of his predecessor, the rest of the world will increasingly see the United States as hypocritical in its grandstanding for human rights and mania for “pro-democracy” regime change.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s recent observation on Fox News Sunday that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s path through places like China and Russia did not typify a trail of freedom should send icy chills down the spine of anyone concerned about America’s world image.

During the Cold War, the drama of a world divided between East and West frequently manifested in high profile defections of Chinese and Soviet citizens to the United States. When Soviet MiG pilots braved being shot down to escape to the West with horror stories from behind the Iron Curtain, U.S. diplomats needed only to smile for the cameras and receive defectors with open arms before the world’s media as the Soviet Union looked every bit the evil empire.

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Today, roles are reversed with Snowden leaving the United States for haven in places like China or Russia. With the United States and her European allies making firm demands that Snowden be detained and denied access to travel, the West looks less and less like defenders of freedom and more like imitators of the East.

So just what happened to the constitutional lawyer-in-chief? Where is the idealism, the civil rights, and the social justice for mankind in America today?

President Ronald Reagan famously warned during his time in office that the difference between East and West was that America’s bayonets pointed out against Soviet aggression, while the Soviet bayonets pointed in towards their own people. President Obama should take heed of that historical warning and remember that we cannot defend freedom abroad by forsaking it at home.

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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