In their haste to condemn Edward Snowden for revealing the NSA’s massive secret spy scheme on the American people, conservatives are rushing to point out how the countries that Snowden is considering for asylum — e.g., Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua — are themselves not exactly bastions of freedom. They are countries in which there is socialism, interventionism, regulation, censorship, and, yes, even secret surveillance of people’s activity.
But conservatives are missing some important points here.
First, Snowden isn’t selecting countries in which to live by how free they are. He’s trying to find a place in which he can escape the clutches of the U.S. government, which is doing everything it can to bring him back to the United States for prosecution, torture, incarceration, and even execution for disclosing its secret surveillance system to the American people and the people of the world.
Ask yourself: If you had a choice of whether to live in a country which is riddled with statism and a country in which you were going to be waterboarded 100 times, or sent into solitary confinement for 10 years as part of a life sentence, or executed by lethal injection, which would you choose? Why I’ll bet that even some conservatives would select the former notwithstanding their complaint that Snowden should select the latter.
Second, conservatives are famous for focusing their attention on the statism of foreign regimes rather than on the statism of their very own government. We witnessed this phenomenon especially during the Cold War, when conservatives were writing article after article and giving speech after speech about the horrors of life in the Soviet Union or communist China and ignoring such things here at home as the rise of the national-security state, the hiring of former Nazis, the infamous MKULTRA project, the assassination programs, the support of brutal dictators, torture, the invasion of Vietnam, regime-change operations, foreign coups, state-sponsored terrorism against Cuba, and other dark-side practices.
Conservatives can’t — or won’t — see that America, with its ever-increasing embrace of statism, is becoming like those other countries that conservatives are criticizing. Conservatives have convinced themselves that American statism is a good thing while statism in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua is a bad thing.
For example, conservatives are pointing out the economic disaster in Venezuela, which they say is a result of governmental mismanagement of the economy. But here at home, what do they advocate? They embrace a way of life based on government management of the economy. They just think that Americans, and especially conservatives, are better at managing an economy than Latin Americans. Like their statist counterparts in Venezuela, they scoff at the libertarian notion of a genuine free-market society, one in which government plays no role in the economy whatsoever.
Consider such welfare-state programs as Social Security, Medicare, subsidies, and education grants. Conservatives love the fact that they are the core of America’s economic system. At the same time, they poke fun at Latin American countries for their embrace of socialist programs. The conservative notion is that Americans are better able to run statist programs than Latin Americans are. Never mind that socialist programs in America are in perpetual crisis, just like they are in Latin America.
Consider government surveillance of the citizenry, the controversy raised by Snowden’s revelations. Conservatives are hopping mad at the disclosures. They call it treason. But then they turn around and criticize Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua for, yes, having surveillance schemes on their citizenry! How can surveillance by Latin American regimes be a bad thing and surveillance by the U.S. government to be a good thing?
Conservatives just don’t get it. Statism in those other countries is certainly a bad thing. But it’s also a bad thing here in the United States. Conservatives should focus their attention on statism here at home and help us libertarians to lead the world out of the statist morass through example by dismantling, not reforming, the statism under which we Americans are suffering.