Sadly, when Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) died, something more than another member was lost because Lautenberg was the very last World War II vet in the U.S. Congress, both houses at one time full of men who could share their own war experiences.
Veterans come in all sizes and shapes and orientations, of course--Democrat and Republican and Independent. But for a half century our country was basically run by men who shared a war, and war creates strange bedfellows.
People like to bring up Lautenberg's passing because it is yet another way of explaining the immense political divide that has characterized life--and political life--in the U.S. in the last decade. Once upon a time vets had a common experience that held them together with the bond that grows between those who put their lives on the line solely for other human beings. Lautenberg's gone, but so all the others. Doesn't bode well. More impassioned gridlock.
Along comes a rather strange young spook--29 years old--named Edward Snowden, who releases all kinds of top secret info by way of The Guardian--all you ever wanted to know about Prism, a government surveillance program that has tech giants like Yahoo and Verizon scrambling for damage control. And that's not all, and it's not all been released. Here's the bottom line: the government keeps track of your phone calls and you e-mail. No kidding.
Snowden claims he doesn't want to live in that kind of world, so he took upon himself the burden--he could go to jail for the rest of his life--of telling us exactly what info actually isn't ours. If you like him, he's a true American, sworn to protect freedom; if you don't, he's a cold-blooded traitor.
Here's the good news. American political elites are confused by what he's done. It's absolutely amazing. How about this, Michael Moore, filmmaker and bleeding-heart liberal, loves Edward Snowden, and so does Glenn Beck (I'm not making this up). John McCain, the John McCain, and Diane Feinstein, even more a San Francisco liberal than Nancy Pelosi, lock arms and call for his immediate arrest.
Folks on both sides of the political ledger love him--and hate him. In a sense, nothing has broken down the Great Wall between Fox News/MSNBC like the revelations of a high school dropout whose girlfriend is a pole dancer. Really.
Rand Paul loves him, but then Snowden gave bucks to support the Presidential candidacy of Father Ron. If he's got any politics at all, it's libertarian, which prompted David Brooks to write in yesterday's New York Times that Edward Snowden is a symbol of "one of the more unfortunate trends in American culture the atomization of society: the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments."
This story is obviously nowhere near over, but already it has blown apart the old coalitions and created astonishing new ones. It'll be fun to keep your eye on the Christian Right to see where they'll come down? My guess?--with John McCain and, gulp, Barack Obama.
I don't claim to know the answer to the primary question being faced today--hero or traitor? But I like what Snowden's done to redraw a tired political landscape.