Adding to a long tradition of misleading the public with dubious information, Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz recently unleashed a scathing attack on Edward Snowden promoter Glenn Greenwald in a 7,600-word essay published by The New Republic. Although Wilentz never comes out and says it directly, the reader is left with the distinct impression that he believes neo-communist Greenwald shouldn’t be considered a member-in-good-standing of the Left. In fact, Wilentz seems to insinuate that Greenwald is an extreme right-winger at heart, a proposition that cannot survive serious scrutiny.
An unabashed partisan Democrat, Wilentz is known for his televised histrionics on the eve of President Clinton’s impeachment. He warned House members that if they voted to impeach Clinton, “history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness.” The New York Times ridiculed him for his outburst, editorializing that his “gratuitously patronizing presentation … marred the Democratic experts’ argument that Mr. Clinton’s misconduct did not meet the constitutional tests for impeachment.”
In the article on Greenwald, whom Rachel Maddow calls “the American left’s most fearless political commentator,” Wilentz artfully suggests that Greenwald might be a right-wing crypto-critic of the president and the Left because he is a zealot on so-called privacy issues and has ferociously attacked the Obama administration for its NSA spying abuses. Instead of making a clear accusation of ideological infidelity against Greenwald, Wilentz cherry-picks statements from Greenwald’s past to put him in the same ideological camp as Ron Paul “paleoconservatives,” who support income tax abolition, isolationism, among other things.
As evidence, Wilentz cites Greenwald’s dalliances with members of the Right in the past. Despite being a crusader for gay rights, in Greenwald’s “online travels, he gravitated to right-wing sites such as Townhall, where he could engage in cyber-brawls with social conservatives,” Wilentz writes. “Over time, he met some of his antagonists in the flesh and, to his surprise, liked them.”
Greenwald’s work has certainly endeared him to libertarians, with whom the lawyer-turned-journalist has had associations over the years, but the simpler explanation for his outreach is that politics makes strange bedfellows. Just because Greenwald elevates the surveillance issue over all others doesn’t mean he stopped being a dogmatic leftist.
And there is no doubt Greenwald is a committed radical leftist.
It’s doubtful that America could ever move far enough to the left to satisfy Greenwald — the recipient of an award named in honor of Soviet agent and left-wing journalist, I.F. Stone. Greenwald doesn’t want to change a few policies here and there; He wants to overthrow the system and his life’s work is clearly dedicated to precisely that.
Greenwald’s anti-Americanism, along with his activism, writings, amply demonstrated hatred of economic freedoms and capitalism, and enthusiastic complicity in Snowden’s leaking of U.S. secrets, mark him as a Marxist-Leninist doing his best to undermine the American system of government.
More specifically, with his effusive praise for and work with U.S. Trotskyists, Greenwald has all but announced that he is one of them. At an International Socialist Organization-sponsored conference in 2011, he stated that
“no event assembles more passionate activism, genuine expertise, and provocative insights than the Socialism Conference. This will be my third straight year attending, and what keeps me coming back is how invigorating and inspiring it is to be in the midst of such diverse and impressive activists.”
ISO is a key Trotskyist/Marxist-Leninist party in the U.S. Its supporters want to establish what Marx called a “dictatorship of the proletariat” right here in America. Plenary sessions on offer at the 2011 conference included “Lenin and the vanguard party,” “Marxism and the state,” “Marxism, war, and imperialism,” “Russia’s revolutionary process, 1905–1917,” “Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution,” “Marxism and the future socialist society,” “The politics of International Socialism” and “Enemies in blue: The police under capitalism.”
Greenwald made his most serious foray into political activism in 2008 when he co-founded the Accountability Now PAC (political action committee) with firedoglake.com founder Jane Hamsher, an activist and film producer who used to be closely associated with then-SEIU chief Andy Stern. The PAC grew out of a coalition of far-left and socialist groups and individuals, including the George Soros-funded group MoveOn, SEIU, the Daily Kos website, Howard Dean’s Democracy for America PAC, and the Van Jones-founded Color of Change. Although the PAC created what Greenwald appropriately called “the Strange Bedfellows coalition,” an “alliance of ideologically diverse factions,” the New York Times described the group as focused on moving the Democratic Party “further to the left.”
A survey of Greenwald’s views clearly demonstrates why Greenwald would form such a group and why he has only sidled up more intensely to groups like the ISO in recent years. In a column titled “Glenn Greenwald: Man of the Left,” David Bernstein points out that, like the rest of the Left, Greenwald is in denial about the terrible fiscal condition of the country. He believes the ongoing, slow-motion bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security is a hoax perpetrated by conservatives to hurt the poor. In an October 2012 column about the vice presidential candidates’ debate, he wrote,
“This claim lies at the heart of the right-wing and neo-liberal quest to slash entitlement benefits for ordinary Americans - [Congressman Paul] Ryan predictably responded by saying: ‘Absolutely. Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts.’ – but the claim is baseless.”
According to Greenwald, this is the work of a capitalist conspiracy. There is a sinister plot afoot by elites who falsely claim that the two entitlement programs are in deep trouble, he maintains. It is a “demonstrable myth being used by the DC class — which largely does not need entitlements — to deceive ordinary Americans into believing that they must ‘sacrifice’ the pittances on which they are now living.”
“Now if that’s not reflective of a conspiratorial far-left perspective on domestic policy,” Bernstein writes, “I don’t know what is.”
Sounding like Noam Chomsky, Greenwald calls the U.S. “the country that has generated more violence and militarism in the world over the last five or six decades.” The U.S. plays a significant role in the Middle East “in order to have access to their oil and protect Israel.” America is hated because it sends its “military for six straight decades into other countries to bomb them, kill their children and women and innocent men, [and] prop up dictators.”
In his venomous 2008 book, Great American Hypocrites, Greenwald accuses conservatives of using “deceitful electoral tactics.” The “right-wing noise machine” uses tactics that “drown out both reality and consideration of actual issues, thus ensuring that elections are decided based on manipulative cultural, psychological, and gender-exploiting marketing imagery.” In other words, the American people suffer from what Marxists call “false consciousness” as they get duped over and over again at the ballot box by the rich, manipulative capitalists who rule over and exploit them.
Greenwald also rejects capitalism and the economic freedoms associated with a market-based economy.
It bothers him that “the wealthiest in our society are permitted to prosper without constraints,” he told Democracy Now. He calls the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats a Ronald Reagan “cliché.” It is “actually completely untrue” because as the rich get richer “nothing trickles down,” and “inequality starts to explode.” The richest conspire against the rest of society, using the political power that accompanies their wealth “to ensure that the system doesn’t work to create equal opportunity, but works only to entrench and shield their own ill-gotten gains.” In other words, profit is by definition theft, which is the position traditionally held by Marxists and left-wing anarchists.
A supporter of Occupy Wall Street, Greenwald wrote a book called, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. It’s not likely to be recommended in Rush Limbaugh’s “Stack of Stuff” anytime soon.
Poor people and average Americans can’t obtain justice in the courts, Greenwald contends. “The criminal justice system is now almost exclusively reserved for ordinary Americans, who are routinely subjected to harsh punishments even for the pettiest of offenses,” he writes. Ignoring countries like Cuba, North Korea, China, and Russia, Greenwald rails against the justice system in America, describing the U.S. as “the world’s largest and most merciless prison state for its poorest and most powerless citizens.”
America, he continues,
“has an entrenched two-tiered system of justice: the country’s most powerful political and financial elites are virtually immunized from the rule of law, empowered to commit felonies with fullscale impunity and to act without any constraints, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in far greater numbers than in any other country on the planet.”
The law itself is unjust, according to Greenwald, because it “perpetuates and even generates tremendous social inequality.”
Greenwald also blames the financial services industry for the nation’s financial troubles, which led him to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. As Greenwald sees things, the violent Occupy protesters who regularly physically attacked police and private businesses were victimized when police fought back and tried to restore order. They, and Americans in general, are victims of the capitalist system, he believes. Like any garden-variety leftist radical, he considers police officers doing their job to be bad guys using the law to protect the “criminals … hiding in Wall Street buildings.” Occupy demonstrators, who defecated on police cars, set fire to buildings, raped and robbed with impunity, and assaulted police, were innocent angels “exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.”
Greenwald’s radical left-wing credentials are further burnished by his repeated condemnations of Israel and its supporters — e.g., the notion that “large and extremely influential Jewish donor groups” secretly manipulate American foreign policy; the claim that most American politicians feel compelled to “pledge their uncritical, absolute loyalty” to Israel, lest their careers be ruined; the charge that “Israeli aggression [against Gaza] is possible only because” of America’s “diplomatic, financial and military support for Israel and everything it does”; and the stunning suggestion that it makes little sense to criminalize “anything that is deemed to be support for Hezbollah and Hamas,” given that those groups are “devoted to protecting their citizens against the state of Israel” and are “not in any way devoted to harming Americans.”
Despite the above documentation of Greenwald’s typical far-left background, Wilentz points to an article Greenwald wrote for Salon in December 2011 evaluating Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy from a far-left perspective (without explicitly endorsing him). But Greenwald only argues that, in his view, left-wingers could feasibly support Paul if they value principle over power. To do so, he acknowledges, they would have to overlook “horrible” aspects of Paul’s worldview, by which he means things such as support for cuts in social welfare spending and limiting government, which connect Paul to the Right.
But just as it boosts Paul, Greenwald’s column is also a scathing attack on President Obama from the far left.
Obama’s “conduct is nothing short of horrific,” Greenwald declares. The president “himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested.”
Obama has “vigorously prosecuted the cruel and supremely racist War on Drugs,” “slaughtered civilians,” “sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs,” “institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield,” and has “waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers.”
“He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists,” he writes.
In a passage that ought to inspire chuckles from anyone who follows the news, Greenwald accuses Obama of “building up vast debt and deficits in the name of militarism that create the pretext for the ‘austerity’ measures which the Washington class (including Obama) is plotting to impose on America’s middle and lower classes.”
Obama has made the U.S. “as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government,” while backing “some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes.” Worst of all, in Greenwald’s view, is that under Obama “America’s National Security State, its Surveillance State, and its posture of endless war is more robust than ever before.”
Again, if you believe, as Greenwald does, that the surveillance state is the defining issue of our time, supporting libertarian Paul over Obama isn’t hard to do.
Wilentz is also offended that years ago Greenwald opposed illegal immigration. To make matters worse, Greenwald dared to utilize “right-wing conceits and catchphrases.” Illegal immigration causes a “parade of evils” by wreaking havoc “economically, socially, and culturally,” Greenwald wrote, adding that it also “makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.”
It’s not clear how those “evils” are necessarily the concern of conservatives alone. Opposing illegal immigration on left-wing grounds isn’t difficult at all, at least in theory. The presence of illegal immigrants undermines the bargaining power of labor unions. The aliens are sometimes treated badly and are arguably “exploited” by those who hire them at below-market rates.
In fact, much of what Greenwald said used to be the default position of labor activists. They believed, correctly, that the influx of cheap labor provided by illegal immigrants puts downward pressure on wages.
Cesar Chavez, the Saul Alinsky-trained labor organizer, was a critic of illegal immigration which he viewed as a threat to the labor movement’s power. In a 1972 interview, he used language that would no doubt offend today’s politically correct, identity politics-driven leftists. The United Farm Workers union co-founder described undocumented immigrants hired to break a strike as “wetbacks” and “illegals,” and lamented that, “As long as we have a poor country bordering California, it’s going to be very difficult to win strikes.”
Contrary to Wilentz’s claims, Greenwald is not unlike many others on the far left who find ready allies on the fringes of the Republican Party due to a shared worldview that puts America at the center of their hatred. This is the niche that Greenwald has occupied throughout most of his public career, and he has made the appropriate connections on the way. But time after time Greenwald has returned to the mantras of supporting massive wealth redistribution and maligning the U.S. as the source of the world’s ills. His commitment to Trotskyists and other totalitarian socialists is no accident, but an expression of his inner core.
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