Lincoln Chafee launched his 2016 campaign with a perfect illustration of why it is so vitally important that the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency be contested and vibrant, with lots of debates, and serious interchanges not just on questions of economic inequality—which the candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will spotlight and define—but on issues such as mass surveillance and privacy rights.
Chafee launched his candidacy several weeks ago with a takeaway statement about how “Our sacred Constitution requires a warrant before unreasonable searches, which includes our phone records. Let’s enforce that and while we’re at it, allow Edward Snowden to come home.”
This has remained a steady focus for the former Rhode Island senator and governor as he has framed a decidedly uphill challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and the other contenders for the party’s nomination. Like all candidates, Chafee says he is in it to win it. But he also says that “the first goal” of his candidacy is to assure that a wider range of issues is “discussed within the Democratic Party.”
Just as Sanders has gone big on economic populism and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has gone big on immigration reform, Chafee has gone big on privacy rights in general and the Snowden case in particular.
After Congress moved to place some restrictions on the mass surveillance that Snowden exposed—as a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and National Security Agency contractor who two years ago revealed that the National Security Agency had been making records of nearly every phone call in the United States—Chafee tweeted: “Congratulations to Congress for standing tall for civil liberties! Now let’s bring Snowden home. He has done his time.”
In New Hampshire, on his first campaign swing as an announced candidate, Chafee expanded on his remarks about Snowden, who penned a June 4 opinion piece for The New York Times in which he recalled his role in “revealing that democratic governments had been monitoring the private activities of ordinary citizens who had done nothing wrong.”
“Within days, the United States government responded by bringing charges against me under World War I-era espionage laws. The journalists were advised by lawyers that they risked arrest or subpoena if they returned to the United States. Politicians raced to condemn our efforts as un-American, even treasonous,” wrote Snowden. “Privately, there were moments when I worried that we might have put our privileged lives at risk for nothing—that the public would react with indifference, or practiced cynicism, to the revelations.”