It is unfortunate but unsurprising that radical leftists and libertarians are praising Edward Snowden, the man who leaked details of the National Security Agency surveillance programs, as a hero and martyr. They contend the United States.cannot lawfully defend itself by such methods and is on the road to becoming some sort of totalitarian state. Listen, it’s a free country and extreme politics is nothing new. But for a U.S. senator to encourage and cheer Snowden’s crime is outlandish and extraordinary.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has done just that, repeatedly, raising the question whether he should properly hold high public office. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Monday, Paul said:

HANNITY: Let me go to a couple of quotes going back to the issue of Snowden and him revealing the secrets.  . . . There’s been a lot of discussion in the country about whether he is a hero or a traitor. I am glad this information came out, because I think the American people have a right to know, I’m also concern though about revealing secrets. What’s your take on it?
PAUL: You know, I think if he had revealed a computer program that showed how we eavesdropped on people who are enemies, that would be a very serious crime. But he revealed something that the media complained everybody already knew about it anyway. So, we did. I had been revealed, The New York Times have revealed it. We passed special legislation — I voted against all of this. But they did pass special legislation authorizing it.
But he still feels like it goes against the Fourth Amendment and what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights stands for. I tend to agree with his position (INAUDIBLE) on deciding when you decide to become a civil disobedient. You know, we had famous ones in our career. Some of them only had to serve like one day in jail. Martin Luther King served 30 days in jail. He may be looking at [life] in prison. So, there’s a question. People are saying, oh, we ought to just come home, but I don’t know if that’s a good or bad idea if he’s facing life in prison.

This is remarkable, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Let’s unpack what he said.

The information itself is classified and for good reason — those who would do us harm should know as little as possible about our surveillance methods. There is no distinction in law between revealing the stuff gained by spying on “bad guys” and the methodology by which we do so.

As for Paul’s claim that the revelation was no big deal: A few days ago Paul was complaining this was all top secret with no oversight; but now is serving as a sort of public defender for Snowden, saying it wasn’t a secret at all. Which is it?

His theory of civil disobedience is bizarre and ahistorical. To compare a person who betrays top secret information and then absconds to China with the peaceful, nonviolent protests of Martin Luther King, Jr. is, well, mind-boggling. The premise behind civil disobedience is that the law(s) you are protesting are vile and not susceptible to change in the political system so you must morally break the law and suffer the consequences in order to educate the public and reveal the law’s immorality.

Snowden, as others have reported, had multiple avenues to challenge the surveillance programs, didn’t do so, and now, having decimated a system that prevented multiple terror attacks, feels compelled to flee to a Communist nation. This is apples and giraffes.

Paul’s Fourth Amendment justification is as flawed as his historical analogies. Both Snowden’s and Paul’s view of the program (that they are in violation of the Fourth Amendment) is almost certainly wrong, if Supreme Court precedent means anything. (The contents of the communications, not the fact of them, are protected by the Fourth Amendment.) We already have elected leaders and a court — no one, you see, appointed Mr. Snowden to be arbitrator of our national security secrets — to review the programs.

This is not the first time Paul has gone down this path. Last Wednesday he said virtually the same thing:

How will history treat him and how will history treat the person who was trying to defend the Fourth Amendment?
I think that’s still open to be said. I think there do need to be rules, that being said, about people not revealing secrets. And I think the divulging of all kinds of secrets that endanger lives is wrong. But in this case, I think he was divulging a program that I think clearly, there are constitutional questions about and for which the director of Intelligence frankly lied to the U.S. Senate and said, we’re not collecting any data on any Americans, when, in fact, they’re doing a billion pieces of data every day.

Paul misses the historical analogy. Snowden is not Martin Luther King, Jr.; he is Julius Rosenberg who was executed along with his wife for spilling nuclear and other military secrets to the Soviets. Snowden’s didn’t deliver U.S. secrets to al-Qaeda operatives directly, but rather put them out into the worldwide media for all to see. The method may be different, but the crime is the same. I’m sure the Rosenberg’s and other spies believed what they was doing was right as well, but misplaced ideology based on faulty understanding of the United States and its Constitution is no justification for betraying your country. Frankly, this lark by Paul is way nuttier than most of what his father said and did.

Now we come to the rub: What on earth is a U.S. senator doing minimizing, praising and indirectly encouraging such behavior? He has a responsibility to familiarize himself with the facts and law and to legislate or urge reform; he is not there to cheer a traitor or suggest serious wrongdoing is akin to civil rights protesters in the Deep South seeking to uproot Jim Crow. If he wants to join or cheer the lawbreakers, shouldn’t he excuse himself from the Senate?

Rand Paul has dreams of becoming a president, he says rather candidly. But I’m not sure he understands even his current job. And really, who would entrust someone such as him with real power, knowing Paul thinks his (wrong) analysis of the Constitution is justification for spilling U.S. secrets?