If Edward Snowden is causing problems for liberals and Democrats because of what his revelations say about president Obama, Glenn Greenwald’s role as his main chosen conduit has increased their discomfiture. Greenwald has become a thorn in the side of liberals and Democrats because of his unsparing criticisms of the actions of the Obama administration . The problem is that even the most loyal supporters of Obama have difficulty countering his criticisms because they are based on facts and reasoned analysis. So, as often happens, when you cannot criticize on content, you shift your criticisms to style and tone. Greenwald used to be good, they say regretfully, and he still says some good things but the problem is that he has become much more rigid and shrill and this undermines his message.
I read this so often that I decided to check if that is indeed the case. I stumbled upon Greenwald almost from the beginning he started his blog Unclaimed Territory in October 2005. I was immediately impressed by many factors: the clarity of his writing, his legal knowledge, his carefully sourced facts, the sharpness of his mind, his commitment to fundamental principles of democracy, and above all his passion. He was clearly someone for whom ‘the rule of law’ was not an empty phrase to be exploited when convenient but something that had to be consistently upheld and fought for. I have been following him since, as he became much better known and moved to Salon and finally to the Guardian.
But has he become more shrill and rigid over time? I went back and looked at when I first linked to him on my own blog, and this was on February 22, 2006 when I quoted lengthy excerpts from one of his posts. In it he took aim at conservatives who instinctively supported anything that their hero George W. Bush did, the way that some Obama supporters do now. He said that by doing so conservatism, once a coherent political philosophy, had been killed by conservatives, an argument that aroused in conservative circles the flip side of the response that liberals make now, that he had become the captive of his liberal supporters and thus shrill and rigid.
So how does the old Greenwald compare to the current one? Here’s a sample from that 2006 post:
Reading Alexandra’s post, I learn that I have “sold out” due to my “blind loyalty to the liberal cause of sabotaging the Administartion (sic) with whatever means available at any given time.” I’m “now simply dancing to the tune of the Daily Kos audience, and it is very disappointing to watch.” Her primary argument in support of this theory is that I have “attempted to pulverize the talented John Hinderaker and Jonah Goldberg,” that I hold “the brilliant Jeff Goldstein” to a “higher moral standard,” and that I say unkind things about the “relentlessly talented and courageous Michelle Malkin.” Seriously. That’s because my “posts have become a barrage of personal attacks on conservative bloggers which were not present pre-love affair with Daily Kos, Atrios, Digby and Crooks and Liars.”
It used to be the case that in order to be considered a “liberal” or someone “of the Left,” one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, “judicial activism,” hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a “liberal,” such views are no longer necessary.
Now, in order to be considered a “liberal,” only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a “liberal,” regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more “liberal” one is. Whether one is a “liberal” – or, for that matter, a “conservative” – is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.
People who self-identify as “conservatives” and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That’s because “conservatism” is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as “liberal” is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government.
As much as any policy prescriptions, conservatism has always been based, more than anything else, on a fundamental distrust of the power of the federal government and a corresponding belief that that power ought to be as restrained as possible, particularly when it comes to its application by the Government to American citizens. It was that deeply rooted distrust that led to conservatives’ vigorous advocacy of states’ rights over centralized power in the federal government, accompanied by demands that the intrusion of the Federal Government in the lives of American citizens be minimized.
Is there anything more antithetical to that ethos than the rabid, power-hungry appetites of Bush followers? There is not an iota of distrust of the Federal Government among them. Quite the contrary. Whereas distrust of the government was quite recently a hallmark of conservatism, expressing distrust of George Bush and the expansive governmental powers he is pursuing subjects one to accusations of being a leftist, subversive loon.
And what I hear, first and foremost, from these Bush following corners is this, in quite a shrieking tone: “Oh, my God – there are all of these evil people trying to kill us, George Bush is doing what he can to save us, and these liberals don’t even care!!! They’re on their side and they deserve the same fate!!!” It doesn’t even sound like political argument; it sounds like a form of highly emotional mass theater masquerading as political debate. It really sounds like a personality cult. It is impervious to reasoned argument and the only attribute is loyalty to the leader. Whatever it is, it isn’t conservative.
A movement which has as its shining lights a woman who advocates the death of her political opponents, another woman who is a proponent of concentration camps, a magazine which advocates the imprisonment of journalists who expose government actions of dubious legality, all topped off by a President who believes he has the power to secretly engage in activities which the American people, through their Congress, have made it a crime to engage in, is a movement motivated by lots of different things. Political ideology isn’t one of them. [My emphasis-MS]
Liberals and Democrats loved this stuff back then and cheered him on. No talk of shrillness came from those quarters. But you could switch the words liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, Bush and Obama, and the column would be similar in style and tone to what he writes now.
No, Greenwald hasn’t become more shrill as far as I can see. In fact, he is one of the few people who could pass the ‘switch test’. His biggest sin (in liberal eyes) is that he is applying the same principles and standards to Obama now that he did to Bush then.