It’s rather amusing to watch Glenn Greenwald attempt, yet again, to insinuate that President Obama is no different than a Republican.
In a Twitlonger he likely jotted off because of the pushback he received in response to his vapid tweet earlier this morning, Greenwald compares President Obama and Rob Portman’s evolution on marriage equality: Rob Portman attributed his position shift to finding out that his son is gay and Obama “partially” based his position shift on the fact that he has gay friends.
Both Obama and Portman are selfish and narcissistic, Greenwald claims, but that’s how political positions are often formed and how political progress is achieved:
(1) if, as many have argued, it’s “selfish” and “narcissistic” for Portman to switch his gay marriage view because he realized the effect discrimination will have on his gay son (and I don’t disagree with that characterization), then the same must be true of others who attributed their switch on gay marriage to realizing that discrimination harms gay people close to them, as Obama did when explaining his switch (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/transcript-robin-roberts-abc-news-interview-president-obama/story?id=16316043&singlePage=true).
(2) What Portman did is incredibly common. The primary reason there has been such a monumental opinion shift on gay marriage is because more and more gay people have come out, which made more and more people realize that those close to them were gay, which in turn made them less willing to support discriminatory laws:
It may be selfish and narcissistic to support equality only once you realize inequality harms those you care about, but that has been a very common dynamic – among people from both parties and across the ideological spectrum, whose switch from opposing gay marriage to supporting it was triggered by a very similar experience to the one motivating Portman.
That’s why coming out has been such a powerful act: because people are less willing to support discrimination when they they realize it harms those they care about. It’s true in general: it’s much harder to demonize people when they’re familiar.
I wish it weren’t that way. It’d be nice, for instance, if fewer people supported US militarism and aggression and civil liberties abridgments because those who are victimized are Invisible and Distant Others, but, as Tejun Cole pointed out (http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/03/teju-cole-interview-twitter-drones-small-fates), that “empathy gap” is a major reason why US aggression and militarism are tolerated: because it doesn’t kill people whom most Americans care about.
Portman’s explanation is far from aberrational or confined to one ideological group: it’s how political opinions are often shaped and how political progress is often achieved. And it’s definitely the leading reason why so many people who opposed gay equality a short time ago now support it.
I suppose that’s one way of looking at it, but it’s not the only way, according to this brilliant and must-read comment from Balloon Juice commenter NCSteve:
I call bullshit, not on Greenwald, who Mistermix rightly calls out for engaging in the fallacy of equivocation, which is what 90% of his oh-so-reasonable post-Bush communications come down to, but on Mistermix for his heh indeedy to Greenwald for attacking Obama for his timidity on the issue.
Bull. Fucking. Shit.
Looking back, it all seems easy, but in 2007, the idea DADT would be gone by 2010 and DOMA would be on the path to extinction would have been met with incredulity. And it’s not just law, it’s the attitude. I have no doubt that there are still more than enough haters and violent homophobes to make being openly gay in most places a daily struggle with idiocy and danger. But when a majority of straight opinion moves from a range between violent hatred and “whatever they do in private is their own business but don’t do it in public” to one where a majority of straights can face the idea of PDA’s by gays with, at most, a shrug or a smile in five years, that’s a pretty remarkable thing. It certainly took a fuck of a lot longer for us to get from Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) to a world where an interracial couple doesn’t get a second glance in a restaurant in North Carolina.
No president has spoken so forcefully, so openly and so often, before running, while campaigning or in office, in support of LGBT rights. No one now seems to remember how surprising, even jarring, it was to hear a candidate talk about gay rights so often and openly in 2007. No one seems to recall that prior to his election, putting an anti-gay measure onto the ballot was a standard Republican presidential election turnout tool whereas, by 2010, they had to sneak them onto midterm ballots to get them to pass and by 2012, they largely surrendered.
Obama’s entire “evolution” on gay marriage was a calculation, but it wasn’t a calculation about what was in his best interest. It was a calculation on how best to assemble majority for change in the shortest possible time. The entire essence of leadership by a president in generating majority support for minority rights–real leadership, not the shrill pulpit pounding and gallant windmill tilting that idiot Firebaggers equate with leadership–is to move majority opinion from point A to point B by getting out just slightly ahead of where the majority’s thinking is and publicly engaging in a dialogue that is ostensibly about his own supposed tortured evolution on the issue. At the same time, the same president who’s supposedly struggling with the issue also engages in very public mainstreaming efforts, both substantive and symbolic. And always, the president hovers just very slightly outside the comfort zone of the people whose opinions he’s trying to move until, finally, they achieve their breakthrough moment and think they’re the ones ahead of the curve.
The mainstreaming efforts recontextualize the way the public views the issue. The dialogue ostensibly about the president’s own supposed struggle to grow becomes the framework by which the public works through its own issues.
This is precisely how Lincoln moved a white northern majority that, however it felt about secession, was largely virulently racist into acceptance of emancipation. It’s how Johnson–for all his faults and beginning in his days as Senate majority leader who depended on racist southern senators for his majority–slowly assembled a white northern majority for an assault on segregation. It’s the same game Kennedy played throughout his short term.
The change in straight attitudes toward gay rights during the course of the Obama Administration has been stunning. I’m not saying he did it all himself, because that would be foolish. Johnson couldn’t have done what he did without the Civil Rights movement and the powerful symbolic presence of the ghost of John F. Kennedy to push him past the finish line. Lincoln couldn’t have freed the slaves without the Radical Republican faction–a faction that abused and scorned him even as he privately acknowledged that his aims were theirs.
But anyone who thinks Obama just went along with what was already happening and would have inevitably happened in the same time frame rather than very systematically and deliberately if gently, leading public opinion through a dramatic evolution to a desired destination is blind as only the smugly cynical or tendentious libertarian purity trolls can be. He didn’t do it alone, but to refuse to grant him his fair share of credit for the radical transformation in both the legal landscape and social attitudes is at best small-minded and at worst churlish.
Precisely. All of it.
Moreover, considering Greenwald’s own “evolution” on certain political positions, his implicit criticism that President Obama’s evolution on marriage equality is borne of selfishness and narcissism is simply too hypocritical for me to let pass without comment.
Back in 2005, when Greenwald was 35 years old, he wrote the following about the scourge of “illegals”:
Over the past several years, illegal immigrants have poured into the United States by the millions. The wave of illegals entering the country is steadily increasing. The people living in the border states of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico know this flow has to be drastically slowed and then halted. The situation is so dire in that region that the Democratic Governors of Arizona and New Mexico were forced to declare States of Emergency as a result of the flow of illegals into their states and the resulting, massive problems which it brings.
The parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known, and it gets worse every day. In short, illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone. Few people dispute this, and yet nothing is done.
In the last year or so, Greenwald added an update to his post, and blamed “Obama cultists” for “digging back six years in [his] archives to find something to discredit [him].” (Silly, but typical.)
Now, is it possible for people to change their political positions on issues like same sex marriage, or immigration, or the Iraq War (which, by the way, Greenwald supported before he didn’t)? Absolutely. Is it possible that such political positions are formed based on critical thinking and not out of political expedience, selfishness, or narcissism? Absolutely. Is the opposite true? Again, absolutely.
But nothing screams “selfish” and “narcissist” like pointing to the fact that you were a noob to blogging as the reason for committing to virtual paper your conservative positions on “illegals” (nice terminology there, pal), and then blaming “Obama cultists” for the reason your old wingnutty positions have come to light. And, as NCSteve’s comment demonstrates, there’s an alternative explanation for President Obama’s “evolution” that does not begin and end with “he’s just like a Republican.”
As I’ve written before, I’m willing to give Greenwald the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was politically uninformed in 2005. (Two full years after the beginning of the Iraq War which Greenwald supported, but never mind that.) Maybe Greenwald didn’t change his position out of selfishness and narcissism (because he knew he couldn’t be considered a “progressive” voice on the left while holding positions on immigration anathema to progressivism.) Maybe he had a true “come to Jesus moment.”
But why won’t he make that same allowance for anyone else, whether the president himself or the president’s supporters? Why won’t he give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with his views on everything? If you hold a nuanced position on drones? You’re a babykiller. If you have a nuanced position on the NDAA, you would defend President Obama if he raped a nun on live television.
No breaks for Obama. No breaks for Obama supporters. Breaks for Greenwald.
Thus is the logic of Glenn Greenwald. And given the slurs that Greenwald hurls at Obama supporters, and his willingness to leverage rape to make a political point, Greenwald’s disdain for President Obama seems more like a personal grudge than anything based on principle.[cross-posted at ABLC]