Monday, January 9, 2012

Greenwald Gets It Wrong on Progressives and War

Glenn Greenwald has been writing a series of articles that criticize the Obama administration for endorsing recent  legislation that codifies the indefinite detention of enemy combatants under certain circumstances. Greenwald has also given a lot of attention to Ron Paul's campaign. While Paul advances oppressive domestic policy proposals, he has condemned war and many unjust antiterrorism practices. Greenwald argues that if Paul received the GOP nomination, he would bring these issues into national discourse -- unlike Mitt Romney (challenging Obama).

Greenwald has also strongly criticized progressives for not giving heat to Obama regarding these issues, even though they condemned Bush for many of the same practices. Today, Greenwald continues his series of essays on this topic. He argues that liberals seek to "deprioritize" war and civil liberties in order to focus on social issues, for which the Democrats have a better record.  Greenwad also rejects the critical observation that upper-class white male progressives might perceive war and antiterrorism practices as central to their agendas because they do not experience subordination based on race, gender or class. Greenwald describes this as "grotesque accusatory innuendo." I disagree with Greenwald's latest commentary.

First, let me state that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Greenwald. He is consistent in his positions, unlike many commentators across the political spectrum. He is a tireless advocate for vital issues such as liberty and peace. His articles are also usually well documented and thorough. Nevertheless, his latest article falls short of this standard.

Distorting Progressive Critiques of the Left

First, Greenwald does not establish his main point -- that "Democratic partisans" seek to deprioritize war and civil liberties in order to protect President Obama. Admittedly, many Democrats have been silent about these issues since Obama's election, but they are not the folks that Greenwald targets. Instead, he goes after folks like Megan Carpentier and Katha Pollit. Carpentier and Pollitt, however, do not fit neatly within the "partisan Democratic" box in which Greenwald seeks to force them. Rather than taking on partisan Democrats who are loyal team players, Greenwald challenges commentators who have made progressive critiques of his arguments. This is an important dimension that Greenwald does not acknowledge.

When progressives (myself included) initially criticized Greenwald for writing positively about Paul, he defended his position by stating that while he agrees with Paul on some issues, he finds many of Paul's proposals unconscionable. Yet, Greenwald has failed to return the respect he has demanded. Leftist criticism of Greenwald and others who have discussed Paul in glowing terms does not seek to deprioritize war and antiterrorism practices. Instead, these commentators seek to highlight the deep problems related to Paul's domestic policies. If Greenwald can focus on the positive side of Paul without deprioritizing his negatives, then other progressives can focus on his negative policies without marginalizing war and antiterroism. Indeed, many of Paul's progressive critics concede that they agree with some of his positions.

Identity and Ideology

Greenwald also vehemently rejects the argument that some white male progressives might overlook Paul's negative positions due to their relative social privilege. These arguments offend Greenwald. I disagree with his reaction.  The intersection of identity and ideology are valid progressive concerns.

From an empirical standpoint, Paul has generated more support among white men than others. Most of his voters in Iowa, for example, were  young white male moderates and independents. He only received 14 percent of Republican votes.  Social patterns are entrenched within political affiliation and voting. Women, the poor and persons of color support liberal causes and candidates. Whites, upper-class and man tend to support conservative and issues and candidates.

Greenwald, however, dismisses any role for societal privilege in the recent progressive debates regarding war and social issues. But people who work on issues of racial discrimination, gender, sexuality and poverty have produced substantial research which demonstrates that public opinion on these issues tend to correlate with social status. Whites, for example, have a very positive view regarding the status of race relations; blacks and other people of color do not (see, e.g, here). This leads many of them to oppose policies designed to ameliorate racial inequality.

Greenwald imples that if identity and ideology were linked, then he would have the better argument because he is defending Muslims and persons of color from abuses by the US. Greenwald, however, refuses to engage in this type of reasoning.  Yet, by raising the point, he effectively does make the argument. Many of Paul's supporters have made similar claims in online debates. It strikes me that people of color are mere pawns in this reasoning.

Presumably, Greenwald and others would remain antiwar regardless of the predominant race of people affected by it. Describing Paul as a favored GOP candidate while neglecting any substantial discussion of the group's affected by his domestic policies reveals an acute blind spot. This does make anyone in this position an evil person.  Instead, it just acknowledges the complexity of human perception and intergroup understanding. Studies, for example, confirm that when people know one or more openly LGBT individuals they have a more positive view of gay rights.  The blind spots are removed by interaction. When people treat progressive identity-based arguments as offensive they risk chilling speech on these important matters.


I am glad that Greenwald has written so powerfully on antiwar and antiterrorism issues. By doing so, he has caused a lot of progressives to examine Paul, which has exposed the danger of many of his ideas. Leftist critiques of Paul and his progressive defenders do not deprioritize war and civil liberty. On the contrary, they promote a comprehensive justice that antiwar advocacy alone cannot accomplish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Darren - I would agree with you if it were really the case, as you say, that all Carpentier, Pollitt, et were doing was pointing out Ron Paul's bad views - the same way I'm pointing out his good ones.

That's totally legitimate: to point out Paul's bad views. He's running for President and that should be done.

But that is clearly not all they're doing. They're going much, much further than that.

They're asserting - falsely - that anyone who points out Ron Paul's good views is ENDORSING Ron Paul for President - a total fabrication - and then going further than that an ascribing racism and privilege-bias based on the endorsement they fabricated.

That's because, in an Election Year, everything is tribal and Manichean; the minute you praise a certain candidate, others will claim you are endoring him even when you aren't.

Just look at the wholesale fabrications they spouted:

Pollitt: "Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is so outraged that progressives haven’t abandoned the warmongering, drone-sending, indefinite-detention-supporting Obama for Paul that he accuses them of supporting the murder of Muslim children."

Carpentier: "there have been calls by progressives, most notably Glenn Greenwald, to ignore all of that and more, and focus instead on Obama's policy failings . . . . he went on to argue that there are no policy priorities more imperative than those – certainly not abortion, immigration rights, LGBT equality, racial justice or any other aspect of the US's extensive foreign policy."

Both of those are inexcusable fabrications, to put it politely, which is why there are no quotes - just fabricated paraphrases.

I never urged progressives to abandon Obama for Paul. I never Paul's odious views should be ignored. I never said there are no more important policy considerations than war and civil liberties. I specifically renounced and rejected those views.

There is no excuse for fabricating ideas and dishonestly attributing them to a writer.

Ordinarily, I would have ignored those fabrications - those are too common to reply to each -- but it was the added insinuations of racism and privilege based on ideas I did not express that made it intolerable.

I genuinely don't think they are guilty of indifference to Muslims due to their white, non-Muslim privilege. I have never before smeared anyone that way for voting for a President who kills, assassinates, and indefinitely detains Muslims.

My point is that the corrupted reasoning they applied to me -- for views I do not hold and did not advocate -- could just as easily be applied to them.

Glenn Greenwald

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