Pelosi’s less than stellar moment at Netroots Nation

“The fact is, you should reject any notion that President Obama’s action have anything to do with what President Bush was doing…

“We protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That’s our oath of office, so we have that responsibility.”
– House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, to the Netroots Nation conference, Saturday, June 22, 2013

Politicians have a way of talking, when they think they know more than we do about what’s good for our country. They treat us like we are petulant and impulsive children and they have to be the stern parent, explaining they are doing what they are doing because they know. They get it and we don’t. “When you’re the parent,” they seem to be saying, “you can make the rules. In the meantime, this is my house and you will do what I say.”

Hours after Politico published Emily Schultheis‘ article, about the lack of anti-Obama sentiment at Netroots Nation, the annual progressive conclave in San Jose, California, this weekend, a ruckus erupted over the NSA revelations that have been in the news lately. And the group’s vehemence was aimed at the highest ranking politician to attend the conference, House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Nancy Pelosi speaks
House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) explains the role of government to a challenging Netroots Nation crowd (PBG June 22, 2013)

Writer, blogger and sometime TV pundit, Zerlina Maxwell, who was given the unenviable challenge of interviewing Ms. Pelosi, Saturday afternoon, eventually got to a question about Edward Snowden’s release of documents related to the government’s snooping operations. Boos and heckles cascaded across the convention hall, as the minority leader defended the legality of the NSA’s data mining operation, and its intrusions into the world’s email and internet activity, while decrying any comparison to similar activities under Bush and Cheney. She even brought charts explaining the differences, which she tweeted.

“No more secret courts! No more secret laws,” shouted attendee Marc Perkel, a 57 year-old Californian. As the crowd applauded and cheered his audaciousness, some joining in the chants, security personnel were summoned and he was removed from the hall. “It was wrong when Cheney did it, and it’s wrong now,” he yelled, as they marched him out.

The shouting inside did not stop, however. When Leader Pelosi was asked for her response to the news that Snowden had been charged with three felonies, under the Espionage Act, she defended the Department of Justice’s criminal complaint. “In terms of Snowden,” she said, “I may be in disagreement with you. He did violate the law, in terms of releasing those documents.” At that point, Pelosi was assailed with another rolling chorus of boos.

She did, however, get some applause while discussing Snowden, but it wasn’t any kind of acknowledgement of her own actions that brought the appreciative claps. It was, instead, her acknowledgement of the sentiment of many in the crowd, that brought a kind of anti-applause from the audience, when she said, “I know there are some of you who attribute heroic status to that action.” Then, over the applause, she admonished, “But you don’t have the responsibility for the security of the United States.”

And it’s not just the civil libertarians of the progressive movement who aren’t pleased with DoJ’s action. The ACLU, Saturday, sent out an email to supporters, where it insisted “whistleblowers like Snowden play a fundamental role in our democracy,” and called PRISM and the other information gathering techniques the government uses, a “massive abuse of government power, that he [Snowden] risked his safety to expose.”

“As Americans,” the ACLU says in its attached letter to the president, “we are tired of seeing liberty sacrificed on the altar of security and having a handful of lawmakers decide what we should and should not know.”

For civil libertarians and progressive activists, this entire incident is a bright, red line. Raising our voices in defense of people who are standing up for what is right for America is a moral imperative. It can be no other way.

Whether or not one believes Edward Snowden is a hero, he is someone who cares about what he believes is right, in defense of our Constitution. That’s not a conversation we should just be having now. The privacy vs. security question is the conversation our government leaders should have been having every day, since 9/11.

Think of it like the Iraqi invasion, except this time, instead of the media being silent as bad things were done in our name, it is our elected officials and the pollyannic, institutional monsters they create, who remained silent when they should have been questioning. Maybe now, they will finally start. Let’s make sure they know we’re listening.


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