Using liberal causes for conservative ends

Yesterday, I highlighted an important article by Glenn Greenwald about how Chuck Hagel’s 1998 opposition to a gay nominee for US ambassador is one of the tools being used to try and torpedo his nomination for Defense Secretary, even though such views were much more common at that time and were similar to those held by people, like Barack Obama, who are now viewed as liberal icons. Furthermore, Hagel has rightly since apologized for those remarks to the person about whom they were made and other commentators have pointed out that his views on gay issues have progressed considerably since that time, as has been the case for so many of us.

So why are those views getting such play at this time? In another article, Greenwald points out how this is part of a more general strategy to dupe liberals and progressives into supporting neoconservative warmongering, by exploiting our desire for justice and equal rights for women, gays, minorities, and other oppressed groups.

[A] favorite tactic of neocons – who have led the smear campaign against Hagel – is to cynically exploit liberal causes to generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda. They suddenly develop an interest in the plight of gay people when seeking to demonize Iran, or pretend to be devoted to women’s rights when attempting to sustain endless war in Afghanistan, or become so deeply moved by the oppression of Muslim factions – such as Iraqi Shia – when it comes time to justify their latest desired invasion.

Greenwald’s suspicions in the Hagel case were aroused when the Log Cabin Republicans (a gay advocacy group within that party) took out a full-age ad in the New York Times attacking Hagel as anti-gay and anti-Israel. As Greenwald says, such ads are extremely expensive (of the order of $100,000) and well beyond the budget of groups like the LCR. Furthermore, the LCR had shown no prior interest in Israel.

Greenwald contacted the group and found them to be very coy about how it managed to find the funds to pay for the ad.

As a result, I posed several questions to LCR about the funding and motive behind this ad. In response, the group’s Executive Director, R. Clark Cooper, confirmed that LCR did not pay for the ad out of its existing funds. Rather, he said, the ad campaign “is being funded by a number of donors”. But he not only refused to identify any of those donors, but also has thus far refused to say whether those “donors” are from the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” community and/or are first-time donors to LCR: in other words, whether these donors are simply exploiting gay issues and the LCR to advance an entirely unrelated agenda as a means of attacking Hagel.

In politics, one has to form coalitions to advance some goals. But one has to go into such coalitions with open eyes. It is one thing to join up with those whom you oppose one some issues in order to advance other worthwhile common goals. That kind of coalition strategy is one that I heartily endorse. But it is quite another to have one’s goals be used to manipulate one into supporting other people’s agendas, people who will then abandon you as soon as you have served their ends.

And this is where things get tricky, especially in the area of international affairs. It was one thing to think that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator and that the people of Iraq would be better served with a democratic form of government. It was quite another to have that desire used by neoconservative ideologues to justify a war of aggression that had as its goals neither democracy nor support for minority rights but a mix of geopolitical and economic ones that had nothing to do with benefiting the Iraqi people.

Meanwhile, while all the attention is focused on the Hagel nomination, the much worse nomination of John Brennan, currently Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, as head of the CIA replacing David Petraeus gets praise and bipartisan support.

So what does that latter fact tell us about the political culture in the US? That being a supporter, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, of torture and renditions and drone strikes that kill civilians, and being the architect of the policy that says that Obama has the right to murder anyone he chooses anywhere, is just fine. The political and media elites will just love you and give you a bipartisan hug. But have a publicized extramarital affair and you are done for.


  1. intergalacticmedium says

    I suppose the meme of politics being a binary between left and right allows people with specific aims to play off groups against each other quite effectively.

  2. says

    No, no. It is have a publicized extramarital affair and look like you feel guilty about it. If you Newt Gingrich it (absolute lack of guilt or empathy) then you get away with it. So you can support oppression and torture and have all the affairs you want while posturing for biblical family units all day, just never show any emotion over it.

  3. jhendrix says

    To be fair, the reason Petraeus had to resign wasn’t because it was widely publicized. It was because the affair left him in a position where he was at risk of blackmail, and he had about the highest clearance level you can get.

    If you hold a clearance and the gov’t finds you’re doing things that can leave yourself at high risk of blackmail or coercion (affairs, high debt, gambling problem, etc), you pretty much can lose your clearance if they think it’s warranted.

  4. lorn says

    The general rule is that when people on one side of an issue start using rhetoric from the other side they have essentially admitted to having run out of arguments. It is like the guys in the movie when the gun runs out of ammunition; they throw the gun. It is a last, desperate attempt to hold off an inevitable defeat for just a few moments longer.

    Of course, there is some vanishingly small chance that a thrown gun will buy them enough time to get away. Southern claims that they couldn’t give up on slavery because the black people couldn’t fend for themselves, this from people who didn’t value non-whites as anything but property, is still confusing the issue today as people who talk about how individual freedom is the highest virtue argue that black men were better off as chattel .

    Concern for gays from the party that countenances claims from card carrying Republicans that gays are evil and seeking to corrupt the nation, and need to be locked up, or killed outright, is quite touching. But it is clearly a rhetorical flourish, not a genuine concern. Liberals need to learn to expect, and duck, those rhetorical thrown guns.

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