David R. Henderson  

William McGurn's Analogy

Ebeling on Mises, the Applied ... Krugman's Bait and Switch...

In a piece titled "Snow(den) blind: Libertarians' telling 'hero'," William McGurn, a former George W. Bush speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist, and currently editorial page editor of the New York Post, writes:

The libertarians who champion Snowden will claim that the secrets he published were embarrassing to the government but not damaging to our security. There's [sic] two points to make about this addled thinking.

First, what Snowden released wasn't about the NSA listening in on conversations about your private marijuana patch.

To the contrary [sic], much of it is about how America goes about its intelligence work, including the Congressional Budget Justification Book that includes detailed information on our intelligence priorities and operations.

Second, say you oppose the NSA program and believe it a good thing it was exposed. Does that make Snowden is [sic] a hero?

If the answer is yes, ask yourself this: Was Sammy "The Bull" Gravano -- a hitman with the Gambino family -- also a "hero" because he coughed up secrets that helped take down John Gotti, the "Teflon Don"?

It's an elementary distinction, between those who honorably serve our nation and those who betray her.

The libertarian inability to make it with Ed Snowden helps explain why libertarians have a long ways [sic] to go before the American people will ever elect one president.

This comes right at the end of his op/ed. Why do I mention that? Because normally when you try to end a piece with a telling analogy or metaphor, you want it to be the crescendo that cinches the argument.

This one didn't work.

McGurn is obviously trying to portray Edward Snowden as the bad guy. I would have thought he would want to use his analogy to portray the NSA as the good guy. But in his analogy, while he has Snowden as Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, he has the NSA as John Gotti. That's not exactly a strong endorsement.

I reacted negatively to McGurn's piece. But on second thought, McGurn is comparing the NSA to a famous ruthless American mobster. McGurn says that we libertarians have a long way to go. I agree with him. But his own analogy shows that we seem to be making progress with a major editorial writer by the name of--William McGurn.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Liberty , moral reasoning

COMMENTS (12 to date)
Yancey Ward writes:

I am not sure Snowden could have revealed the capabilities of the US intelligence agencies without revealing information that might well aid foreign governments and other entities. I am not sure what Snowden's motives are, but then I don't really care. It is good to know just how precarious your privacy is.

trent steele writes:

I'd also point out that, by his analogy, Snowden was a criminal while working for the NSA before he left and "went straight" by informing on them.

Edward Snowden has evidently authored a book with a deep constitutional argument, in case your readers are not aware of it. Being a fan of Snowden, I reviewed the book.

David R. Henderson writes:

@trent steele,
Really good point.

Dan Hill writes:

Not to mention the staggering logical fallacy contained in McGurn's statement, that people and institutions which are systematically and massively violating our most basic law - the Constitution - are somehow honorably serving our nation. Cue Inigo Montoya: I don't think it means what they think it means. It is neither service to our nation nor honorable.

Every totalitarian regime in history has worked hard to convince their minions that they were serving the greater good...

Andreas Werckmeister writes:

William McGurn's analogy is idiotic because there's literally no equivalence between Snowden and Sammy Gravano except for the fact that they ended up publicly revealing info about an organization wrapped in secrecy.

Unless he actually thinks Gravano's action of exposing the mobster was wrong, because, you know, that would be equivalent to betraying our nation.

Ricardo Cruz writes:

@Richard, "About the author: we are Edward Snowden" - the book sounds like it was written by someone else under a pseudonym.

Ricardo Cruz writes:

ps: but I would be curious to find out either way ...

Ricardo, I have watched all the Snowden interviews and documentaries (which have come to my attention) and I believe I have noticed in some of his remarks an education and thinking consistent with an author of that book on constitutional history and theory.

Keith writes:
I would have thought he would want to use his analogy to portray the NSA as the good guy.

I think I see what you're getting at, but I don't think that's true here, because earlier McGurn writes:

say you oppose the NSA program and believe it a good thing it was exposed.

It seems McGurn is just assuming for the sake of argument that the NSA is the bad guy. Such an analogy may not have the rhetorical effect for which McGurn hopes, but I don't think the analogy is just an oversight.

Greg G writes:

First of all, I'm pretty sure you are overestimating the "progress" you are making with McGurn.

Secondly, isn't one of the most fundamental lessons of economics that there are always trade offs and unintended consequences to any policy? I am surprised at how many people feel the only choices we have are to decide that Snowden is either a hero or a villain.

There have been many terrorist campaigns in human history and I can't recall any that didn't cause a constriction of human rights in the societies affected. We saw a few years ago just how easily a majority of Americans will accept and endorse the torture of those merely suspected of terrorism. And just how easily they will accept and endorse a foolish war.

The next successful wave of terrorist attacks could easily produce a worse reaction than the collection and analysis of meta-data...which admittedly can, and likely will be, abused in some fashion.

vikingvista writes:


It seems McGurn is just assuming for the sake of argument that the NSA is the bad guy.

That only works if libertarians believe the NSA is bad for reasons other than what Snowden revealed--i.e. for reasons that led Snowden to work with the NSA to begin with. Perhaps some do, but bad or not, most libertarians don't believe that all government intelligence gathering, particularly of foreign states, violates the constitution.

By conflating Snowden's reasons for whistleblowing with Snowden's reasons for working with the NSA, McGurn's argument becomes an argument against any approval of whistleblowing against the government that is not sanctioned by the government itself. One has to wonder if his disapproval would also apply to a watchdog press.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top