Out magazine has a profile of Glenn Greenwald, and two things stood—ahem—out to me. One is comparatively minor, the other much more problematic.
[EDITED FROM ORIGINAL: to prevent some from being distracted by a secondary point, I’ve moved the original opening of the post to the bottom. No content has been eliminated, it’s simply been moved around to prevent people from not focusing on my main points]
The more substantive problem I have, though, is with this:
In his early days as a blogger, Greenwald supported Democratic candidates who shared his pro–civil liberties views. But events of the last two years — in both the White House and Congress — have changed his mind. “I just don’t think meaningful change is possible through piecemeal reforms in either of the two political parties,” he says. As for the Democrats themselves, he can barely contain his disgust. “The Republicans,” he says, “have long lived by what they call the Buckley Rule: always support the furthest-right candidate who can plausibly win. That’s because they believe conservatism will work and want to advocate for it. Democrats [by contrast] prop up the most centrist or conservative candidates — i.e., corporatists — on the ground that it’s always better, more politically astute, to move to the right.”
One of his hopes for 2012 is that candidates will emerge to take on the red and the blue teams — he is keeping an eye on Gary Johnson, a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, who is pro-gay and antiwar, and who could run with a Democrat like former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold. He would also be happy to see a billionaire run without the help of either party, to “disrupt the two-party stranglehold.”
Greenwald believes the same manipulation of the two-party system is essential in the fight for gay rights. He says he is encouraged by the rise of the Log Cabin Republicans—not because he likes a thing the GOP endorses, but because “it sends a signal to Democrats that they can’t keep using gay voters as an ATM machine.”
Let’s unpack this. First, let’s have a collective eyeroll at the naivety and (probably surprising to him) Broder-like fetishization of bipartisanship. He’ll support a Republican, but wants the Republican to run with a Democrat? Why? Second, his “I’m hoping for a billionaire to save America from politics” stance is deeply anti-democratic. In effect, he’s hoping for someone to come in and bypass any elections until the presidential general election and just try to buy the election. Doesn’t he know enough to worry about a Ross Perot, or a Silvio Berlusconi?
Then, there’s the issue of his overall political acumen and whether he has a well-formed and resolute set of political values. His written output suggests that Greenwald is politically engaged primarily by civil liberties and security state issues. He writes comparatively little about economic quality of life issues like wealth and income disparities, life opportunities and other forms of economic and social justice, including the rights of workers to act in solidarity to form unions and collectively bargain through their labor unions. And now, in learning he’s open to supporting Republican Gary Johnson, we see enough to know it’s almost certain he doesn’t share with liberals and progressives the core belief that the government has a necessary and essential role in taming the excesses of capitalism or of addressing our existential challenges as a species.
According to the 2002 edition of the Almanac of American Politics, as governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson cut taxes on the rich while cutting social services for the poor. He tried to pluck money out of public schools and funnel it in to private school vouchers. He vetoed a minimum wage bill. He signed in to law a late-term abortion ban. He won’t affirm a belief in global warming, and says even if it is happening that the effects are exaggerated and too much money is being wasted on it. And he vetoed a bill that would have continued the collective bargaining rights of public employees. That’s right, without the bluster but apparently to the same intended effect he did the same thing to public employees in New Mexico that Scott Walker did in Wisconsin.
Oh, by the way: Gary Johnson doesn’t support same-sex marriage.
Glenn Greenwald may be a brilliant legal mind (although he may also just be an slippery sophist trafficking in thoughtless or disingenuous outrage). He may also be right in some of his criticisms of the Obama administration’s legal actions, especially concerning terrorism, secrecy and due process. But if he thinks Gary Johnson is worthy of his support, he’s either hostile to progressive politics, or he’s a political nitwit. 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. And if you’re going to complain–rightly–that it’s wrong that in the US he can’t marry the man he loves, and he complains that Democrats, including Barack Obama don’t support marriage equality, why in the hell would he play political footsies with someone who’s far, far worse on most issues and is at best no better than Barack Obama on marriage equality?
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. He’s also a poor political analyst, for if can’t he recognize the damage that would be unleashed by having as a president someone who cavorts with 9-11 truther Alex Jones and who in 2008 endorsed nutball libertarian Ron Paul for president, why pay attention to what he says outside the narrowly legal boundaries of his claims about the government, our politicians and public policy?
Then again, maybe there’s something else going on. Here’s the conclusion of the profile:
Being predictable, he says, offering advice to the gay community and an unwitting summary of his career, “is the best way to guarantee you’re ignored.”
Maybe, in the end, it’s not even the politics that matter the most to Glenn Greenwald. Maybe what’s most important to him is ensuring that he’s not ignored.
[Original opening to the piece]
First, this bit of slipperiness about his living inBrazil, and why:
Given Greenwald’s intellectual fecundity and argumentative ferocity, being gay may be the least interesting thing about him. But even Greenwald doesn’t claim that his sexual orientation doesn’t matter. After all, if he were straight he would be living in Manhattan, his home for most of the last 20 years. Instead, he lives in Rio de Janeiro, barred from moving to the United Stateswith his Brazilian boyfriend, David Michael Miranda.
“Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly ‘free,’ liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition,” says Greenwald, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act with the disdain he typically shows for policies he believes are eroding Americans’ freedoms. Greenwald’s attacks on the powerful make him a tempting target for reprisals. So it’s no surprise that, soon after he started blogging, critics sometimes tried to out him in a game of “gotcha”. But what upset Greenwald was the implication that he had been closeted in the first place. “There was nothing to out,” he says. “I’ve been as out as I can be since I was 20.”
I don’t know if the faulty claims here are from Greenwald, the writer, or a combination of the two, but it hardly makes sense that the only reason Greenwald isn’t living in theUS is because he’s gay. He evidently comes and goes through the US as he pleases, and his partner says he used to travel everywhere with him but now he sometimes has to stay inRiobecause of his studies. And there’s certainly no prohibition against being gay and having a committed partner.
Of course it’s completely plausible that what’s really happening is unconscionable but not dark and menacing. If Greenwald were straight and met a woman inRio, he could have married her and eventually—although not with a certainly and probably not without hassles–gotten her a visa so they could live together in the US. But he can’t do that officially and easily with a same-sex partner, so therefore it’s possible that his choice is live in the US but not be able to bring his partner in to the US permanently, or just say “screw it, I want to be with him, and we can either have a crappy long-distance relationship across national borders or I could live with him in Rio and travel to the US when necessary.”
That Greenwald and others who love someone of the same sex may be forced to make such a choice is unjust. I admit that in the past I had thought “you know, if he cares so much about the US then why doesn’t Greenwald just live here and fight to make it better instead of staying in Brazil.” But I was wrong. If indeed his partner can’t get permanent resident status in the US, who are we to say that Greenwald should stay here and deny himself love and domesticity?
But if Greenwald lives in Brazil because he wants to live with the man he loves, while unjust and makes the US worthy of criticism, it’s not close to being true that he’s “barred from living in the United States with his boyfriend.” It’s more likely true that, like plenty of couples, same-sex as well as hetero, that because they’re unmarried his partner can’t live permanently in the US, but unlike hetero couples they don’t have the option of changing that by getting married. That’s horrible, but not as ominous sounding as saying he’s barred from moving to the US.
Commenter William has a link to an astonishing 2005 Greenwald piece on immigration, where he not only fulminates about amnesty for illegal immigrants but also writes this, which reads like a typical angry libertarian rant against the legitimacy of federal government [bold added by me]:
There already is a “closed sign on the border” when it comes to illegal immigration. It’s called the law. The problem is that the “closed sign” isn’t being enforced because the Federal Government, which has its interfering, power-hungry hands in virtually everything else, has abdicated its duty in one of the very few areas where it was actually meant to be: border security.
The position that the federal government has very few areas where it’s meant to be was once the dominant position on the US Supreme Court. Beginning with Lochner v New York (1905) the court repeatedly invalidated federal actions, most famously in striking down many of the New Deal programs in the first few years of FDR’s administration. After about 1935 FDR was able to appoint justices who didn’t adhere to what was until recently an antiquated and disdained interpretation of the Constitution. But in recent years, the Federalist Society and other far-right groups, particularly those steadfastly opposed to business, labor and environmental regulations, have taken positions consistent with the Lochner view, and in the spirit of Greenwald’s outburst quoted above, that the federal government has few prerogatives outside protecting our borders and defending us from attack. It’s the position of Justices Alito, Thomas, and I think Scalia. And none of them, obviously, are liberals or progressives.
That line I’ve quoted doesn’t prove that that Greenwald pines for a Lochner-era interpretation of the Constitution, but it suggests he may. And what thoughtful liberal or progressive who cares about labor laws or consumer and environmental protections would ever blurt out that the federal government–especially during the Bush years, with it’s lax or non-existent regulation of the economy and environment!- is meant to be only in few areas like border patrol, and that it has its “interfering, power-hungry hands in virtually everything else?”