Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon.com, has published a thorough piece about the vapid and nauseating political season we’re now enduring as reported by an establishment media system that has immeasurably lowered public discourse in recent decades.
The breathless, horserace type of media reporting we now endure is more focused on Newt Gingrich’s tears for his mother or Mitt Romney’s dog than the reality of our eroding civil liberties or the increasing wealth disparity between the rich and everyone else, whether under the government control of Republicans or Democrats.
I’ll try not to quote Greenwald too much because everyone should read the piece, but here’s the opener:
As I’ve written about before, America’s election season degrades mainstream political discourse even beyond its usual lowly state. The worst attributes of our political culture – obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan loyalties – become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it – covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates – drone on with even less attention paid than usual.
The density of Greenwald’s writing and his relentless presentation of evidence, examples and ironclad logic make him one of the premier progressive writers in the world right now.
Greenwald frames his argument by discussing the candidacy of Ron Paul. He doesn’t endorse Paul, but he argues the candidate is arguing for a progressive approach to both foreign policy and civil liberties unlike President Barack Obama or, of course, the other Republican candidates for president. Thus, the establishment media, Greenwald argues, doesn’t know how to cover him. Greenwald writes:
Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform – certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party – who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote – Barack Obama – advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.
Greenwald concedes that Paul has baggage, most notably older newsletters in his name that contained derogatory comments about African Americans and the gay community but essentially argues that doesn’t just cancel out some of Paul’s other better ideas.
As Greenwald has long argued, those Democrats and progressives who “flamboyantly” criticized former President George W. Bush for his foreign and civil liberties’ policies are hypocrites when they fail to criticize President Barack Obama for continuing and even extending the concept of The Imperial President, who can essentially unilaterally declare war or jail American citizens indefinitely if they’re deemed suspected terrorists.
I agree with Greenwald, and although I have criticized Obama for his dismal record on civil liberties, it doesn’t compare to how many words, here and elsewhere, I wrote criticizing Bush on these issues during the years of his presidency. Unfortunately, like many people, I find myself drifting once again into the “lesser-of-the-two evils” political trap that is both reductionist and dangerous in the long-term. I understand this. I also understand political fatigue.
Let me be clear. Obama recently signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that allows the federal government to hold an American citizen indefinitely, without trial, if the person is deemed a terrorist. The NDAA also continues the current guidelines about transfers of Guantanamo prisoners. This is wrong and deplorable.
Obama said he had “serious reservations” about the bill, but he signed it anyway. It’s obvious he signed the bill for political reasons, willing to risk trading away basic human rights of United States citizens for his own reelection chances because he doesn’t want to seem soft on terrorism. It’s politics at its most despicable level, but it doesn’t mean Paul should be president.
I warned long ago that Bush’s policies were unlikely to be overturned by future presidents, Democratic or Republican. Who wants to give up power? What politician wants to give up policies that can be turned into intense campaign tools? Perpetual war and all its attendant scare tactics favor incumbents.
Having said all this, I won’t vote for Ron Paul if he were to eventually run on a third ticket, or any ticket for that matter, because of his past racist record and his other proposals about draconian cuts in government. I WILL vote for Obama, who is a deeply flawed candidate but someone I believe-or at least hope at this point-can be moved to a more forceful progressive view by growing protests in this country over wealth disparity, civil liberties and other issues. In a second term, without an upcoming election hanging over his head, Obama should feel freer to adopt more progressive policies.
I don’t come to this position as some mindless party partisan, as Greenwald might suggest, but through a process of logic and choice. I can check out of the mainstream system or not. I can join a third party or disavow electoral politics altogether. I choose, for now at least, to engage the current political process as broken as it is, as disgusting as it seems right now to me and others, including Greenwald.
So below this paragraph are some responses to Greenwald’s piece. These are not necessarily counter arguments but ideas to consider along with Greenwald’s claims. I hope it gives at least some reason for myself and others to keep on fighting for now within the system, though I can still envision a time when sustained street protest or revolution might be the only recourse for change.
- Time. Intentionally or not, Greenwald’s piece doesn’t deal with the issue of the length of time it can take in this country for significant political change. This is often the case with Greenwald’s writing in Salon.com. The modern-day conservative movement, which we can date back to the Ronald Reagan presidency, is approximately 30 years old. By contrast, a somewhat coherent, postmodern progressive movement-note the word “postmodern” here-didn’t really begin until the controversial election of Bush in 2000. New technologies have allowed progressive ideas and rhetorical counters to conservative dogma and right-wing media to flourish, but make no mistake that this is a long process. It could take another 20 years for more progressive ideas or a more progressive sensibility to take root more broadly in the electorate.
- In praise of Obama. As disappointed as many progressives have been in the Obama presidency so far, and I’m one of them, he has accomplished what no Republican president would have accomplished during the years he has been president. He pushed through the Affordable Care Act, which didn’t include a public option but can be viewed as a first step to universal coverage if the GOP doesn’t repeal it or if the U.S. Supreme Court deems it unconstitutional. He saved the country from another Great Depression and passed a stimulus program, even if it should have been larger. He removed combat troops from the mistaken and costly military occupation of Iraq, a huge step in ending the neocon’s push for perpetual war. I agree we should end the occupation of Afghanistan as well, and I believe that could happen in Obama’s next term. I believe Obama won’t try to compromise as much with recalcitrant Republicans in a second term. I also expect him to run a campaign that reflects the concerns of the Occupy Wall Street movement about the growing wealth disparity between the rich and everyone else. These arguments are either missing or glossed over with general qualifications in Greenwald’s piece.
- Do we give up? Many of Greenwald’s pieces sometimes leave me, momentarily, politically paralyzed. What does Greenwald suggest? In this piece and others, it’s sometimes extremely unclear. Greenwald is certainly not endorsing Paul in his piece. That’s obvious. Does he think we should check out of what for better or worse we have to call mainstream politics? Should we join a third party? Should progressives condemn Obama, leave electoral politics and allow Republicans back in control with the hope the carnage they wreck will convince voters that true progressives need to be empowered?
Obviously, the number of readers who will read my longer post all the way through is relatively small, and I’m sure Greenwald could care less. But maybe Greenwald risks becoming part of what he’s always criticizing, especially when he offers no answers to our broken political system. Political change isn’t going to happen just because Greenwald appears on reductionist cable television programs and argues the “right” progressive view with a conservative shill or because he entertains the progressive intelligentsia with his dense and powerful writing. It has to happen on the streets, and that’s a disordered process that may or may not result in immediate gains or any success at all. Meanwhile, I also believe Obama can STILL be a conduit for major change or, at worse, yes, the lesser of two evils. The streets. Obama. One doesn’t exclude the other.