Glenn Greenwald has become the subject of debate for his role in releasing information that he claims points to a scandal at the National Security Agency (NSA). Greenwald has been attacked and praised by people on all sides of the political spectrum, and these attempts to define Greenwald are filtered through ideological lenses.
How does Greenwald define himself? The answer comes in a piece called “Frequently Told Lies” published by Greenwald on a side-blog of his.
In the introduction, he takes on criticism from fellow journalists who attack him for publicly ascribing to a political ideology rather than neutral objectivity:
Anyone who develops any sort of platform in US political debates becomes a target of hostility and attack. That’s just the nature of politics everywhere. Those attacks often are advanced with falsehoods, fabrications and lies about the person. In general, the point of these falsehoods is to attack and discredit the messenger in lieu of engaging the substance of the critiques.
Greenwald is certainly correct about the vicious nature of our current political climate. There are reasons to understand people’s political beliefs other than to attack them as ad hominem, however; it puts their statements and journalistic choices into a wider context and often even explains the words they use.
Reading Greenwald’s self-description, I view him as a radical left-wing libertarian–similar in worldview to the official line of Occupy Wall Street, Code Pink, and others on the anti-war, peace-and-justice movement left. Of course, nobody agrees with anybody 100 percent, so there are some differences on issues like Citizens United, but I think the broad agreement on issues is clearly there.
It is true that Greenwald opposes President Obama. If you go point-by-point through his positions, you will find a belief system that lies to the left of President Obama, including working with unions promoting progressive candidates against more conservative Democrats.
Of course, everyone will make up their own mind. So here is Glenn Greenwald’s unedited response to the charge that he is a right-wing libertarian:
Ever since I began writing about politics back in 2005, people have tried to apply pretty much every political label to me. It’s almost always a shorthand method to discredit someone without having to engage the substance of their arguments. It’s the classic ad hominem fallacy: you don’t need to listen to or deal with his arguments because he’s an X.
Back then – when I was writing every day to criticize the Bush administration – Bush followers tried to apply the label “far leftist” to me. Now that I spend most of my energy writing critically about the Obama administration, Obama followers try to claim I’m a “right-wing libertarian”.
These labels are hard to refute primarily because they’ve become impoverished of any meaning. They’re just mindless slurs used to try to discredit one’s political adversaries. Most of the people who hurl the “libertarian” label at me have no idea what the term even means. Ask anyone who makes this claim to identify the views I’ve expressed – with links and quotes – that constitute libertarianism.
I don’t really care what labels get applied to me. But – beyond the anti-war and pro-civil-liberties writing I do on a daily basis – here are views I’ve publicly advocated. Decide for yourself if the “libertarian” label applies:
* advocating for robust public financing to eliminate the domination by the rich in political campaigns, writing: “corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture” (here and here);
* attacking oligarchs – led by the Koch Brothers – for self-pitying complaints about the government and criticizing policies that favor the rich at the expense of ordinary Americans (here);
* arguing in favor of a public option for health care reform (repeatedly);
* using my blog to raise substantial money for the campaigns of Russ Feingold and left-wing/anti-war Democrats Normon Solomon, Franke Wilmer and Cecil Bothwell, and defending Dennis Kucinich from Democratic Party attacks;
* co-founding a new group along with Daniel Ellsberg, Laura Poitras, John Cusack, Xeni Jardim [sic], JP Barlow and others to protect press freedom and independent journalism (see the New York Times report on this here);
* co-founding and working extensively on a PAC to work with labor unions and liberal advocacy groups to recruit progressive primary challengers to conservative Democratic incumbents (see the New York Times report on this here);
To apply a “right-wing libertarian” label to someone with those views and that activism is patently idiotic. Just ask any actual libertarian whether those views are compatible with being a libertarian. Or just read this October, 2012 post – written on Volokh, a libertarian blog – entitled “Glenn Greenwald, Man of the Left“, which claims I harbor “left-wing views on economic policy” and am “a run-of-the-mill left-winger of the sort who can be heard 24/7 on the likes of Pacifica radio” because of my opposition to cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
There is no doubt that I share many views with actual libertarians, including: opposition to a massive surveillance state, support for marriage equality for LGBT citizens, restraints on government power to imprison or kill people without due process, opposition to the death penalty and the generally oppressive US penal state, contempt for the sadistic and racist drug war, disgust toward corporatism and crony capitalism, and opposition to aggressive wars and the ability of presidents to wage them without Congressional authority. It’s also true that I supported the Citizens United decision on free speech grounds: along with people like the ACLU and Eliot Spitzer (the only politician to put real fear in the heart of Wall Street executives in the last decade and probably the politician most hated by actual libertarians).
Liberals and libertarians share the same views on many issues, particularly involving war, civil liberties, penal policies, and government abuse of power. That is why people like Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Dennis Kucinich worked so closely with Ron Paul to Audit the Fed and restore civil liberties.
But “libertarianism” has an actual meaning: it’s not just a slur to mean: anyone who criticizes President Obama but disagrees with Rush Limbaugh. Anyone who applies this label to me in light of my actual views and work is either very ignorant or very dishonest – or, most likely, both.