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Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald
I've been a fan of Glenn Greenwald's work  (NOTE: Greenwald replies to my post here ) since I first became aware of it during the first NSA scandal of recent years, the Bush Era warrantless wiretapping, when Glenn was a leader in the analysis of the abuses of the Bush Administration. His latest book regarding the Snowden NSA story, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State,  is a must-read for me. While I often disagree with Greenwald, I never fail to respect his work.

Given some of the attacks aimed at him, I can imagine he is hypersensitive to some charges, including claims of racism and sexism in his work. I certainly disagree with these criticisms.

However, in an interview with GQ, Greenwald made a statement that bothered me a great deal and revealed, at least in my view, a blind spot that Greenwald has with regard to the manifestations of racism and sexism in our society. Greenwald said:

Hillary is banal, corrupted, drained of vibrancy and passion. I mean, she's been around forever, the Clinton circle. She's a fucking hawk and like a neocon, practically. She's surrounded by all these sleazy money types who are just corrupting everything everywhere. But she's going to be the first female president, and women in America are going to be completely invested in her candidacy. Opposition to her is going to be depicted as misogynistic, like opposition to Obama has been depicted as racist. It's going to be this completely symbolic messaging that's going to overshadow the fact that she'll do nothing but continue everything in pursuit of her own power. They'll probably have a gay person after Hillary who's just going to do the same thing. [Emphasis supplied.]
Greenwald's critique of Hillary Clinton here is neither sexist nor misogynist (which is not to say it is accurate). However, his statement about women's support for Clinton and his implication that any identification of sexism and misogyny directed at Clinton (and racism directed at President Obama) is merely a deflection of substantive critiques is so off the mark that it jarred and troubled me.

Of course, not all criticism of Hillary Clinton and President Obama is sexist or racist, but some of it surely is. Surely an intelligent person like Greenwald can understand that these two thoughts—that there are legitimate criticisms of Clinton and Obama AND Clinton and Obama are often treated in sexist and racist manners—are not mutually exclusive.

Greenwald's expressions here are reminiscent of Jonathan Chait's strawman arguments that "racial liberals" see all criticisms of President Obama as racial or racist. Not only is it wrong, it is a pernicious view that would sweep under the rug the very real problems of racism and sexism that still permeate every level of our society.

I have more to say on the flip.

I do not believe that concerns for civil liberties, war crimes, hyper-militaristic foreign policy and related issues preclude understanding the real problems of racism and sexism in our society. Being a civil libertarian is not a "white privilege" view—it's the exact opposite, in my view (consider "stop and frisk," for example). By the same token, recognizing that President Obama faces racism, despite being the most powerful person in the world, does not make one a blinded Obama apologist. Similarly, recognizing that Hillary Clinton faced, and faces, deeply embedded sexism and misogyny does not mean that one is ignoring some very troubling aspects regarding Clinton's record and views.

Outside the context of these two oversized public figures (clearly the two most recognized politicians in the nation), concerns about racism and sexism manifest themselves every day. Of course, the story that is burning white hot these days is the New York Times' firing of Jill Abramson, the newspaper's first female executive editor. Interestingly, the first African-American executive editor of the newspaper, Dean Baquet, has succeeded her. Do we really believe that issues of gender and race are not an important part of that story? I certainly do not.

What bothers me the most about the implications of Greenwald's statement is the idea that we have to choose between concerns about civil liberties, income inequality, interventionist foreign policy, etc., and concerns about racism and sexism. I think that implication is dead wrong.

I know in my own writings at Daily Kos over the past decade, my concerns included both. I never felt I could not critique President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton because of concerns over racism and sexism. I believed (and believe) I could hold  two thoughts at the same time—President Obama could be (and was) wrong about any number of things while at the same time he faced deeply embedded racism.

More generally, I never felt constrained in the least in writing about sexism and racism because those concerns would overwhelm other issues. Thus, like the entire group of Daily Kos writers, I too opposed Alberto Gonzales' appointment as attorney general because of his support for torture. Did I consider the fact that Gonzales was Latino in formulating my critiques? Certainly. I was careful to not descend into ethnic stereotypes and tried very hard to judge Gonzales on substance without regard to his ethnicity. Does that mean that Gonzales never faced bigotry? Hardly. But our criticisms were not colored, or so I hope, by Gonzales' ethnicity.

And so it went on other issues, such as Lawrence Summers' statements on women in science, and the Roberts Court's race project seeking to eliminate any and all government efforts to address racism and sexism.

The concerns and critiques hardly preclude us from being critical of President Obama. My own started back in 2006, when I criticized then-Sen. Obama's political style—on political bargaining, on Libya and the war-making power, on his choice of Treasury secretary.

Greenwald does us and himself a disservice by accepting the corrosive notion that we can not recognize that racism and sexism impact even the most powerful in our society, while at the same time being able to substantively critique powerful persons of color, women and other members of minority groups. It is not true.

Greenwald also misunderstands the powerful and reasonable allegiance that minority groups will have towards one of their own who advocates and understands their concerns. Thus Greenwald dismissively writes "women in America are going to be completely invested in her candidacy"—as if Clinton's longstanding and persistent advocacy for womens' rights would have nothing to do with it. It was slighting and frankly, sexist. (Of course, this is also true for President Obama and African Americans.)

Glenn Greenwald has provided some of the most important analysis and journalism of the past decade. He continues to play an important role in our national discourse. But he is wrong on the issues of racism and sexism and how they impact our national political discussion. I hope he can learn to see the error of his analysis.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun May 18, 2014 at 02:45 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges.

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