At a talk given the day after the 2010 election — one that was a disaster for Democrats — “progressive” writer and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin, and expressed the hope that Democrats might suffer the same fate in 2012.
Greenwald’s speech mainly focused on civil liberties and terrorism policy “in the age of Obama.” But it was his approach to politics that got members of the Young Americans for Liberty — a Paulite Libertarian group that co-sponsored the event — excited:
The speech was stellar with too many good points to touch on in a single blog post. I would like to point out that in the Q&A at 38:00 Greenwald specifically addresses a possible alliance between progressives and Ron Paul libertarians. He also mentions Gary Johnson as a unique candidate with possibly the best chance of bringing this coalition together in a 2012 run for president.
In addition to praising Johnson, who announced for president this week, and promoting the idea of a Johnson- Russ Feingold ticket, as he did again recently in an interview with Out Magazine, Greenwald offered a few insights into his way of thinking:
- He called President Obama a “political coward” whose entire history, as a student, a writer, an organizer and as a politician, is one of accommodation of entrenched power, to whom he never wants to be seen as a “threat” (27:58)
- He said Democrats have stigmatized the idea of supporting third parties or not voting at all, “by what is perceived to have happened in 2000 when Ralph Nader supposedly siphoned off votes and helped elect George Bush,” (24:50)
- He lavishly praised not just Wikileaks and Bradley Manning (who he called “probably the most heroic figure we’ve seen in at least a decade.” but also tea partyers who strike fear into the hearts of politicians by “acting very threateningly,” and “taking guns and machine guns” to their protests (49:10);
- And he expressed support for the Citizens United ruling, dismissing the concerns over corporate “personhood” by saying that if the government can restrict corporate speech, it could strip corporations and “entities” like the ACLU of all of their constitutional rights, saying it’s better that the government not limit corporate speech, but rather that it create a generous public financing system that would match one campaigner’s $50 million in corporate cash with $50 million for his or her opponent from the federal government (32:33);
But it was Greenwald’s notion of third party voting that offered the greatest window in what he’d like to see happen in American elections. In short, he’d like to see another Naderite revolution in 2012. Here’s a transcript with approximate time codes:
23:54 – If all you ever do is complain about how horrible and abysmal the Democrats are, but at the end of the day, right before the election happens, you say, you know what, as much as I loathe you, and as disappointing as you’ve been, and as horrible as the things you have done, I’m going to give you my support because you’ve scared me that the other alternative is just a little bit worse … and therefore since I’ll never vote Republican, you have my unconditional undying support no matter how much how stmp on my values, no matter how horrible the things that you do … what you’re doing is youre guaranteeing that you’ll always be ignored.
And that’s the position that so many liberals and progressives have been in. Which is, you know, really finding Democratic policies to be repellant and yet at the same time, at the end of the day saying, well you’ve convinced me that they’re just a tiny, little bit worse. And the only way to break that is to say well, even though I know that by abstaining or supporting a third party, I’m going to be sacrificing some of my short term political interests; I’m going to be causing a few more Republicans to be elected than otherwise might be elected; on balance, I’m willing to sacrifice my short term interests in order to do something to subvert the stranglehold that these two parties have on the political process because electing more Democrats, even though it’s a little less scary, accomplishes nothing good. And everyone’s going to have to decide for themselves when they get to that point, and I think and hope that that point is pretty close. And if Obama does move to the center as the consensus is telling him that he should and starts doing things like cutting Social Security, which they’re revving up to do if they can get consensus on, in a very short period of time, I think you’re gonna see lots and lots of progressives and Democrats – even people who hated the Naderites for abandoning the party, start to entertain those options, and a lot sooner rather than later. And I hope that’s the case.
Of course, it’s not unusual for progressive libertarians to feel strongly that a third party movement is the answer to what they see as the sameness of the Democratic and Republican parties. But I think it’s hard to argue, in the wake of the 2010 election and the House Republicans’ all-out assault on women, unions, teachers, the poor, and now the elderly, that there’s no material difference between Democratic- and Republican-controlled government. And for non-elites in the Democratic party, those “short term interests” would be tough to sacrifice, whether its the ability to obtain unemployment insurance if they lose a job, the ability to organize and get decent wages and healthcare on the job, to retire with dignity rather than a voucher, and on and on. The stark right turn the country took when more Republicans were elected is a sobering reminder that most people can’t afford to strike a blow at the two-party system as a “short term sacrifice,” though people in Greenwald’s more privileged position can.
I’d be interested to see if Greenwald would give this same speech today, and whether he would do it in Wisconsin, given what’s happening there.
I wouldn’t doubt that he would.
Even as the 2000 election drew down, progressive libertarians like Michael Moore and Bill Maher advocated voting for Nader instead of Al Gore, because “there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference” between the major party candidates.
We all see how well that worked out.
In the end, it’s not about Greenwald’s individual views. He has a right to them, and a perfect right to advocate that Democrats/liberals pull away from the party and vote for whoever he thinks they should vote for.
The question is, how broad the “Naderite” faction is today, and how could that impact the 2012 election, when what will be on the line is not just the House, which Democrats are currently in a position to retake, but also control of the Senate and the White House. Should Republicans, who will be of the same ideological stripe as those in the House, because of the primacy of the Koch/John Birch Society tea party wing, take over Congress and the White House, this will be a very different country a few years from now.
And progressives need to ask whether it’s better to prioritize symbolic strikes against the two-party system over the basic interests of the people who form the base of their constituency: single women, young people and largely minorities, unlike the almost entirely white, privileged, progressive elite.
The video of the Greenwald entire speech and the Q&A can be found on the Badger Herald website.
UPDATE: This Michael Kinsley piece from TIME Magazine back in 2007 has an interesting take on what Libertarians believe, which might be instructive for those who focus on the civil liberties issues, and forget the rest
To oversimplify somewhat less, Democrats aren’t always for Big Government, and Republicans aren’t always against it. Democrats treasure civil liberties, whereas Republicans are more tolerant of government censorship to protect children from pornography, or of wiretapping to catch a criminal, or of torture in the war against terrorism. War in general and Iraq in particular–certainly Big Government exercises–are projects Republicans tend to be more enthusiastic about. Likewise the criminal process: Republicans tend to want to make more things illegal and to send more people to jail for longer. Republicans also consider themselves more concerned about the moral tone of the country, and they are more disposed toward using the government in trying to improve it. In particular, Republicans think religion needs more help from society, through the government, while Democrats are touchier about the separation of church and state.
Many people feel that neither party offers a coherent set of principles that they can agree with. For them, the choice is whether you believe in Big Government or you don’t. And if you don’t, you call yourself a libertarian. Libertarians are against government in all its manifestations. Domestically, they are against social-welfare programs. They favor self-reliance (as they see it) over Big Government spending. Internationally, they are isolationists. Like George Washington, they loathe “foreign entanglements,” and they think the rest of the world can go to hell without America’s help. They don’t care–or at least they don’t think the government should care–about what people are reading, thinking, drinking, smoking or doing in bed. And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights. …
And while Libertarians do hold a certain fascination for liberals (I know lots of liberals who were tempted by Ron Paul in 2008 because of his anti-war stance) you do have to consider the Libertarian stance on social issues when deciding whether you think a Gary Johnson administration would be a good thing for the majority of Americans, most of whom are concerned more about economic and subsistence issues, than about the civil liberties issues driving people like Greenwald.