Is Glenn Greenwald Good for the Progressive Movement?

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Ben Cohen
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My friend and fellow Banter Media blogger Matt Osborne disagrees with me on Glenn Greenwald (again):

First, Greenwald is not a liberal. He's a libertarian who's just peachy with Citizens United and compares anyone who dares to say anything supportive of Obama to Leni Riefenstahl. A "cult of personality" around Obama is the constant projection of the lunatic right, raised as they are on Jesus Camp and charismatic politics. Drum's statement reflects the reality that presidents are surrounded by information and influences that we don't have -- Obama probably knows more about what's happening in Libya than we do. Acknowledging that is not an "abdication" of anything. The only abdication going on, the only obsession with personality, is Greenwald's.

I've had this debate with Matt before, and I'll say it again - I think he is misrepresenting Greenwald's political views and is in danger of tearing down a figure who generally speaking, is on the same team as him. Firstly, the accusation that Greenwald is 'just peachy' with Citizens United is not accurate or fair. I wrote the following about the charge in the last back and forth we had about the topic:

I don't agree with Greenwald when it comes to the supreme court ruling that allows unlimited funding of political candidates by corporations, but I understand his point of view. It is highly nuanced, and Greenwald recognizes the dangers of corporate funded elections - he just believes freedom of speech supercedes it (Greenwald also believes that public funding of elections can redress the balance).

Also, Greenwald is quite clearly not a Libertarian - as he once tweeted about the accusation:

Libertarian is a pretty weird label to apply to someone who favors single-payer health care and massive increases in social spending.

I do understand where Matt is coming from when he attacks the Jane Hamsher/Glenn Greenwald wing of the progressive movement. The militancy with which they attact Obama and those who do not agree with them on the Left is self defeating - as Chez Pazienza points out:

I've said before that the narcissistic dipshits within Obama's own party who can't shut up about how he's "just like Bush" because he didn't dismantle the military, make gay marriage and drug use mandatory and build a Whole Foods on top of Ground Zero are actually a hell of a lot more irritating.

Because remember, the most important issue currently facing this country is whether or not Bradley Manning is having a good time in jail.

It is absolutely true that the Obama administration has behaved appallingly over issues like the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military commission at Guantanamo as opposed to a real court, and yes, the treatment of Bradley Manning. The press should be all over issues like these and Obama should be held to account for his unconstitutional activities. But when the other party is actively trying to shut down the government, destroy medicare and social security and invade Iran, a little perspective is needed.

I think it is undeniable that Greenwald does important work - his priorities may be wrong and counter productive from a political point of view - but I'm glad someone is doing it. It's part of the debate, and Greenwald adds to it in a big way. As he wrote himself the other day, it is the essence of civil discourse and intellectual consistency to engage seriously with those you don't agree with:

A vital part of critical thinking is to purposely expose yourself to opposing views that are formidable and worthy of respect; I wrote just a few days ago that I do that with Juan Cole's writings on Libya, and the reason I've read Kevin for years (and, as I wrote in this post, found it largely worthwhile) is because, though we have different intellectual and political dispositions in the context of agreement on numerous issues, his points with which I disagree often force me to think. It's absolutely true in general that any rational person would pause to examine their convictions if someone whose judgment they respect disagrees with them, and it's also wise -- I'd say necessary -- to seek out the input of people who know more than you do on any particular issue

In short, I have a lot of time for the Matt Osbornes and Glenn Greenwalds of this world, and I believe to dismiss either out of hand does a disservice to much needed debate within the progressive movement.