I'm all for heroes. Bonnie Tyler reminded us long ago that everyone needs one and she, in particular, was holding out for one, but I've always been of the mind that the assignation comes with a pretty high bar. It seems these days, however, we're a country (world?) so beset by our various political and moral polarities that the labeling of "hero" becomes more a baiting tool than an attribution of any true value ("You hate my guy? Well, we're calling him a 'hero,' so there!").
With that paradigm in play, we've been informed that all sorts of dubious people were heroes in recent years, from shooters taking down abortion docs, politicians sliming the president, religious zealots eschewing science, right up to homegrown spies leaking intelligence documents all over the world. "Hero" might be losing its luster.
At this point Edward Snowden has arguably become more of a symbol than a real guy with crooked teeth, black-rimmed glasses, a pal in Glenn Greenwald, and a facility for stealing secrets. He represents fears, conspiracy theories, agendas; idealism. Those whose worldview frames the government as mustache-twirling Bad Guys conspiring to turn the country into a police state label him a hero. The rest of us -- we who have, perhaps, a more balanced, reasoned view of the elected folks we put into office (aka, the government) -- see him as a flawed figure who may or may not have had a higher purpose but muddied it up badly by hightailing it to Russia where conscientious objecting got lost to personal butt-saving that led to global disturbance. Whatever label you want to give Snowden, 'hero' doesn't quite cut it for many observers of this convoluted scenario.
But as I've followed this story, I've noticed an almost panicked, zealous insistence that we're just supposed to ignore the flawed messenger and only pay attention to his message. Every piece I've written about the guy has been followed by often screeching counterpoints indicating an extremism that makes the admonition to "leave the messenger alone" sound almost childlike, unwilling to perceive or accept any honest, human nuances that might be present in this situation. Personally, I think everyone paying attention would be a lot more amenable to looking at and embracing the fabulousness of Mr. Snowden if his followers (groupies? supporters?) would calm down and quit telling everyone how horrible and narrow-minded they are to doubt him.
And yet, even as we're instructed to ignore the messenger, in a move that could be seen as contradictory or, even, hypocritical, Julian Assange, the patron saint of the movement, has ascribed the President's announcement regarding surveillance and intelligence reforms as a "victory of sorts for Edward Snowden." Which would indicate there is some picking and choosing going on about when the messenger actually can be analyzed. As the Church Lady used to say, "How convenient."
But Assange wasn't the only one: tweets from Ezra Klein, Chuck Todd and others less attached to the outcome chortled along the lines of "doesn't this make Snowden a hero?" to which I wanted to holler, "REALLY???" A man who broke the law by stealing and leaking intelligence legally gathered (say what you will against the Patriot Act, it was legal), absconded to China (that bastion of free speech) where more secrets were revealed; then off to our Cold War compatriot, Russia, where he sent global diplomacy into a spin while embracing a country whose human rights violations are legion (right up to their current law against 'gay propaganda'), turning the whole damn story into a sort of "where's Waldo-ish?" drama about him... he's a hero? Because the president spoke about reforms?
Wise minds can grant that the fracas as a result of Snowden's actions likely have something to do with the NSA issue moving closer to the top of the administration's agenda. That's good, but whatever the inspiration for necessary change, that doesn't make Snowden a hero. Reforms throughout history have often evolved as a result of criminal activity; that does not make the perpetrator of the inciting crime a hero: The Amber Alert does not make the kidnapper who triggered it a hero; the changes in airline travel safety do not make the 9/11 terrorists heroes; the regulations on banks do not make Wall Street greed-meisters heroes... and reforms within the NSA and other intelligence agencies do not make Edward Snowden a hero.
If they do for you, fine. Me? I like my heroes a little more heroic.