FILED TO: Politics
By Chez Pazienza: So over the past week this site has turned into the “Let’s Take a Few Shots at Glenn Greenwald” show, with two of its highest-profile columnists — Banter founder Ben Cohen and blogging machine Bob Cesca — penning pieces that take issue with Greenwald’s smugness and intransigence in the face of political reality. One of the essays that started it all actually quoted something I’d written months ago, but I’ve been loathe to step into the fray myself around here simply because these days I honestly regard Glenn Greenwald as a nonentity, having come to the conclusion quite a while back that the less I think about Greenwald’s insufferable sanctimony and ongoing propensity for childish tantrum-throwing, the better. I genuinely don’t read what he writes at all anymore; I see the headlines over at Salon, know in short order exactly what he’s going to say before he even says it, chuckle and shake my head for a second, then move on to something more informative, balanced and worth taking seriously.
With that in mind, though, I do think there’s one thing worth addressing when it comes to the discussion of Greenwald. It’s something I’ve noticed all week, something I’m frankly tired of seeing: I’d like to know why anyone feels as if he or she needs to go through the requisite genuflection procedure before spelling out just how worthless Greenwald is as a voice for smart progressive politics. I obviously don’t mean to insult either Ben or Bob, because I believe their overall appreciation for Greenwald’s work to be sincere, but it does seem as if any criticism of Greenwald from the left has to be tempered with the disclaimer that he’s an intelligent guy who often does good work that’s deserving of consideration and praise. In other words, to crib an old bit from comic Dom Irrera, it seems like anytime someone on the left decides to take on Greenwald, that person has to begin with the obligatory, needlessly deferential and often laughably full-of-shit, “With all due respect…”
Well, as it turns out I don’t do that. And that’s because I’m more than happy to admit that I have no respect at all for Greenwald. Not anymore.
I actually have spelled out in the past, in semi-articulate fashion I hope, just a few of the reasons that I think his relentless fusillade of self-righteous indignation aimed at the Obama administration amounts to little more than white noise and disqualifies his opinion from serious, continued attention by anyone interested in the promotion of a progressive agenda in this country. Greenwald’s ongoing love affair with four or five subjects, at the exclusion of almost anything and everything else, has become, if you’ll pardon the pun, a dull “drone” at the periphery of intelligent political debate. No one’s arguing that the White House under Barack Obama has and hasn’t done quite a few things worthy of criticism and even outright denunciation, but to hector this presidency without compromise or the consideration of any dissenting argument, to equate it wholesale with the administration of George W. Bush or the potential administration of Republican President X, and to condescendingly ridicule anyone who dares to defend Obama as some sort of “cultist” or intellectually dishonest automaton — that makes you nothing more than a fringe element whose opinions will never make a bit of difference in the overall political discourse because you offer zero room for the possibility that you’re wrong. It’s one thing to stick by your ideals — it’s quite another to arrogantly believe that you’re Horatius at the Bridge and to blithely dismiss those not willing to stand on that bridge with you.
The main issue for me comes down to this bit of hypocritical dissonance: Greenwald once wrote a lengthy piece questioning President Obama’s progressive bona fides, in essence claiming that he had none, that he wasn’t really a liberal thinker and therefore no one on the left should approach his presidency with the assumption that he has their best interests at heart. First of all, this is a nonsensical thing to say by any objective measure, given that while Obama has indeed made decisions that reflect centrist and even conservative politics on occasion, he’s taken progressive positions across a wide range of subjects and has pushed through or attempted to push through liberal legislation as a matter of policy more so than just about any other president in a half-century.
But more than that, I’d argue that it’s Glenn Greenwald who doesn’t truly care about progressive politics — certainly not more than he cares about, well, Glenn Greenwald and the absolute satisfaction he demands on his pet issues. He speaks out, always in an almost inhumanly detached and Aspergerian fashion, not as someone who wants to see real-world liberal politics succeed and flourish in the United States but as someone who wants his personal utopian ideals catered to in the manner he feels he deserves. He figuratively and somewhat literally — if you take into account the fact that he lives as an expatriate a good portion of the time — offers the “view from nowhere” in his diatribes. Not only are his opinions divorced from modern political reality in this country, he’s throwing rocks at a house he chooses not to live in and therefore there are no negative consequences to his actions. He can look from on-high and pass judgment, piously casting himself as ethical journalism’s Last Man Standing, because in the end he won’t have to live with the disaster that would be the alternative to the Obama administration coming to power in November.
Politics is about compromise and, as much as you or I would like it to be otherwise, that’s always going to be the case. While this president has done plenty of things I vehemently disagree with, I understand that if you’re looking to see progressive political policy pushed by the White House he is the absolute best you’re going to do in a country that’s made up of as many conservatives as there are liberals. Demanding accountability is always a necessity — but constant vilification accomplishes nothing other than doing the job of Republican strategists for them. And that matters if the debate isn’t merely an academic one for you — a lot of pseudo-intellectual masturbation — and if you’ve actually got something to lose. If you live in a world where political reality is a consideration for you. But again, Greenwald isn’t on anyone’s side but his own and his only consideration is what he personally believes is right — and if something infinitely worse and more unjust comes from relentlessly voicing that intractable belief system and patronizing anyone who offers a contradictory argument, so be it.
A smart and potentially powerful voice for the advancement of progressive policy and against the frightening reality of Tea Party-era conservatism is instead content to settle for dispensing town crier-style shtick on a handful of subjects — evil drones, Bradley Manning as a martyr, Assange as a saint, al-Awlaki as an innocent victim of imperial murder — and to make a really nice little career for himself doing it it. This is what makes it so easy to simply shrug off Greenwald’s pedantic ranting. Which is what anyone interested in keeping this country from going to total shit should be doing.
Oh, by the way, Greenwald supported George W. Bush’s invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, then had the balls to turn around a couple of years later and punch way above his intellectual weight class by calling Christopher Hitchens a “war monger” for having done the same.
Tell me I need to take him seriously.