Thursday, April 28, 2011


Glenn Greenwald used to be a liberal favorite back when he was railing against the Bush administration, considered a progressive hero for his forceful defenses of civil liberties and attacks on the warfare state.

Guess what happened: Greenwald kept up his whole having-actual-principles shtick even after Barack Obama's glorious ascent to power. And that's a no-no.

Since January 2009, Greenwald has come under increasingly ludicrous attacks from Obama's partisan fan club, the premise underlying most of the broadsides being that any critic of the president's must be a secret Republican or, my favorite, in it for the fame and money (I'm still waiting for my check from the Koch brothers).

In a recent interview with Out Magazine, Greenwald really stepped in it, though, when he suggested he might be open to supporting someone for president who's not a Democrat. In particular, he said some complimentary things about Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who, like Ron Paul, is campaigning for the Republican nomination on an anti-war, pro-drug legalization platform.

Now, as a non-voter I could perhaps criticize Greenwald for focusing a bit too much on electoral politics, which very rarely is a path toward real change; independent social movements, like the ones that pushed for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam war, seem to me much more effective. Instead of diverting time and resources into elections, I'd like to see more people organizing and their own communities and raising money not for politicians, but for health clinics and even alternative news organizations. But that, of course, is not what upsets Obama's loyal fans.

In a piece much-circulated by that fan club, which by the reception from Democratic partisans I take it is supposed to be scathing, not satire, we are told Greenwald's hypothetical support for Johnson constitutes an excommunicable offense. "Neither a Liberal Nor a Progressive," blares the headline to the pieces, which gives a run-down of Johnson's history as governor of slashing "taxes on the rich while cutting social services for the poor" (no one tell liberals about how that guy in the White House who just extended Bush's tax cuts for the rich at the expense of social programs for the poor).

Given Johnson's record -- the accounting of which excludes that whole opposition to war and locking up hundreds of thousands of people for non-violent offenses stuff -- we are told:
"You simply can’t consider yourself a progressive in any broadly accepted meaning of the term and thoughtfully and in an informed way support for president someone with the views and history of Gary Johnson."
"By saying he might support Gary Johnson, Glenn Greenwald has now demonstrated that he is a narrowly-focused advocate who cares about only a few issues, and is not a liberal or progressive with a broad sense of the common good."
As the post makes clear, though, one can still be a "liberal or a progressive with a broad sense of the common good" if you support a guy who blows up little children with cluster bombs, as Barack Obama has in Yemen. You can still be a liberal or progressive in good standing if you support a man who has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani civilians with flying death robots. And you can still be a liberal if you back a guy who has shown not the slighest inclination to reform, much less do away with, a war on drugs that has led to 2.3 million Americans being placed in cages, the vast majority minorities.

That the president has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan, ordered more drone strikes in Pakistan than his predecessor did in eight years, and launched another war in Libya without so much as getting a rubber stamp from Congress is of no concern to the good party-line liberal. The president, after all, is a Democrat.

If that's what it really means to be a liberal or a progressive -- supporting empire and mass incarceration or, even worse in my opinion, pretending neither exist -- Greenwald might be happy to learn he's not one.


  1. In the last election, Obama was backed by wall street's millions. Obama promised to expand the Afghan War, repeatedly referring to it as 'the right war'. Obama promised to expand the size of the military and to increase military spending.

    Anyone who voted for Obama was voting for more war, more death, more destruction, more torture.

    Meanwhile, there were anti-war candidates on the ballot last time. I count 5, which was probably too many for support to gather around them and to show the true strength of antiwar effort and votes.

    But, I can proudly say that I voted. And that I voted for one of these true anti-war candidates that was on the ballot in 2008. Don't blame me, I voted for McKiinney.

    The 2008 General Election ballot was quite clear in that a very pro-wall street, pro-war, pro-more-defense-spending Obama campaign was opposed by anti-wall street, anti-war, pro-less-defense-spending campaigns from both McKinney and Nader.

    The left got what it voted for in 2008. And, I'd be very surprised if anti-war voters have to go vote for some hopeless Republican primary challenge to show an anti-war voice. There are always other choices on the ballot besides pro-war Democrats and Republicans. This was true in 2008. I'd be shocked if it wasn't true in 2012.

    The question is, will anti-war voters continue to vote for pro-war Democrats? Which is of course certain to lead to more war. Or, will anti-war voters decide to take the choice that might possibly end the wars, and vote for the anti-war candidates.

  2. I do not agree with all of Greenwald's positions, but your argument here is a strong one that highlights why he needs to be read, and his ideas considered and discussed. I went to that piece you linked to about the whole liberal/progressive designation, and I was appalled. The level of groupthink and self-satisfaction was pretty sickening. I think that is far more dangerous than someone trying to renegotiate the political terrain.

  3. I am a non-voter. That is I vote for people who might make a good president, etc. not paying any attention to electability (meaning "he will do what rich folks want"). Johnson would not get my vote, but Greenwald is smart enough to know that doing the same thing again is going to lead to pretty much the same things again. And that is a really bad thing.

  4. Lisa Simeone10:47 AM

    I just left a group blog I had been a part of for years because I got sick and tired of being shouted down and told what a moron I was for criticizing Obama. Oh, and for admiringly quoting Greenwald once too often.

    The Erudite Ogre's statement, "The level of groupthink and self-satisfaction was pretty sickening" is one I well understand.

    But I can't say it came entirely as a surprise. I'd noticed enough times before that the purported left can be just as blinkered as the right they love to decry, and just as hypocritical. There's a lot of we're-the-smartest-people-in-the-room kind of backslapping that goes on.

  5. Alan in SF6:38 PM

    During the election, I visited the Obama blog, trying to persuade my fellow Obama supporters to pressure the candidate not to break his promise on FISA. I was massively and royally flamed, not just for suggesting that we ordinary folk should try to have some influence on the candidate, but for even mentioning an actual political issue. I read the flamers' others posts and they were, to an astounding extent, centered on how cute the Obama children were. Kind of got a clue right there.

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