La Dolce Vita

A few thoughts from Steven Rockford
JANUARY 6, 2012 1:00AM

Glenn Greenwald's identity crisis

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glenn greenwald1   

The intensity of the pundit analyses of the GOP Campaign Circus has actually provided some rather interesting insights.   

The circumstances have made it difficult for certain individuals to avoid being “exposed” (in an Entertainment Tonight way) for views that many of their followers thought were contrary to their actual political beliefs.  A perfect example is the recent revelation (though thoroughly and ineffectively denounced by Glenn Greenwald) that he is indeed a Randian Libertarian. 

It started with a typical 2,000 word Greenwald treatise last week that Glenn used to justify his reasoning for saying that progressives are torn by (what he calls) the “rational” progressive issues being presented by Ron Paul, a Republican Libertarian candidate. 

Real liberals and progressives quickly pounced on Greenwald’s premises, focusing on his idolic praise for pseudo-liberal pundit Matt Stoller.  For example, David Atkins, at Hullabaloo, quoted Greenwald: 

As Matt Stoller argued in a genuinely brilliant essay on the history of progressivism and the Democratic Party which I cannot recommend highly enough: “the anger [Ron Paul] inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.” Ron Paul’s candidacy is a mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception 

Atkins went on to say, “As usual, this is all so much hogwash… Liberalism is and has always been about intervention.”  Even Gary Weiss, at Greenwald’s home site Salon, said that he “couldn’t disagree more” with the views presented by Stoller and Greenwald. 

Personally, I came to the stark realization that Glenn Greenwald is not a true progressive at the time of SCOTUS’s Citizens United decision in January of 2010.  Greenwald, an ardent defender of the ruling, wrote this the day after the decision 

Although I doubt it, this decision may very well worsen that problem (corporatism) in some substantial way.  But on both pragmatic and Constitutional grounds, the issue of corporate influence — like virtually all issues — is not really solvable by restrictions on political speech.  Isn’t it far more promising to have the Government try to equalize the playing field through serious public financing of campaigns than to try to slink around the First Amendment — or, worse, amend it — in order to limit political advocacy?   

As for the question of whether corporations possess “personhood,” that’s an interesting issue and, as I said, I’m very sympathetic to the argument that they do not, but the majority’s ruling here did not really turn on that question. That’s because the First Amendment does not only vest rights in “persons.” It says nothing about “persons.” It simply bans Congress from making any laws abridging freedom of speech.  

Glenn, in an atypical display of naïveté, failed to recognize that our founders were concerned about freedom of speech for the “People” of America – not the noises made by farm animals or the innocuous words presented by non-human corporations, PACs or labor unions.

The Bill of Rights, by definition, protects the “individual” rights of American citizens (persons).  It is true, as Glenn says, that the First Amendment “says nothing about ‘persons’.”  It doesn’t have to.  The whole purpose of the Bill of Rights in its entirety is to “vest rights in ‘persons’.”  It is not necessary for each amendment to restate that principle.    

For me, Greenwald clarified his anti-progressive beliefs a few weeks later when he debated Dennis Kucinich on Democracy Now in his support of the Citizens United decision. 

The main point that Greenwald felt he made was: 

It is clear that Congress shall make no law abridging free speech… The clear Constitutional prescriptions of the First Amendment in allowing the government to ban or regulate corporations from speaking out on elections, to me, seem very problematic. 

In other words, Glenn Greenwald had no problem accepting corporations (or for that matter any organized group of people or farm animals) as being “persons,” a view that I did, and do, find impossible for any rational progressive person to accept. 

After January 2010, I stopped reading Glenn Greenwald.


Update:  January 17, 2012 

Inasmuch as this week marks the second anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, it seems appropriate that we look back at the “ardent defense” of this decision by Glenn Greenwald in early 2010. 

At that time, there were numerous, well-supported rebuttals to Glenn’s stated arguments that “corporations = persons” and “money = speech.”     

I believe that Kevin Murphy summed it up best when he wrote: 

Throughout this whole back-and-forth, there was not even the remotest possibility that any other interpretation on these two questions had merit for Greenwald: Corporations have first amendment rights. Money is speech. Both are obviously enshrined in the First Amendment.  And arguing anything else is ridiculous and deserving of scorn (even if Supreme Court justices have argued differently in the past, including as recently as Thursday.)  So let it be written, so let it be done. 

Uh...really?  Who knows...perhaps it's a lawyer thing. Nonetheless, this myopic, bullish way of thinking -- I hold the only correct possible interpretation of the law, and you're either with me or you're with the Dubyaites -- isn't very satisfying on either personal or argumentative grounds.  And Greenwald's constant doubling down on his original argument, even as more and more holes were poked in it by various responders, makes me question not only his temperament but his writing in general. He usually provides a valuable public service, no doubt, but he seems to have bought into his own hype as an Incorruptible Defender of Liberty.  If you can't think outside of yourself once in awhile, or find some way to weigh arguments you may not necessarily agree with without deeming them unprincipled, you're really not much use to anyone.

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GREAT post - Recently, I've found some of Glenn's perspectives perplexing, to say the least, much to my dismay.

Kucinich, by the way, is one of the few people I could support to run against the liar-in-chief.

Stephen Rockford. Care is courage. I followed Mission.
I tried to shy away from reading ref:` Glenn Greenwald.
I've met him in DC @ the Cato Institute` a 90 miles trip.
Glenn Greenwald wrote a book`ref:, Bush's Hypocrites.
I got a great free Cato lunch and bought Glenn's book.
I gave Glenn Greenwald's Brazilian lover a wine bottle.
I handed blueberry wine his partner discreetly. a Gift.
I did Not wish anyone to be perceived as a winebibber.
I hand delivered to Mr. Greenwald my`Bank Troubles.
I thanked him for his out-spoken- mien. I disagree too.
No human creature should want only flattery. No/Yes.
A good person invites honest constuctive critique. Yes?
I has many betray me ref:. Bank arrest. Ref:, Kim Doan.
Kim Doan came to America (Amerasian) in the nineties.
She lost health, home, apartments, and a laundromat.
I never heard a word from Lawyer`Glenn Greenwald.
I had been advised to read his UT blog. I learned stuff.
Be positive?
rouged lips
clear spring water
I live outside town -
Clear Spring, Md.
It's in a rural farm -
clear springs abound.
For a brief moment she (the haiku poet) forgot herself. This is one of Chiyo's most memorable haiku poem. It shows her forgetting her rouged lips - the makeup was important to women of that day. It's respectable - Everyone cares?
We wish to look presentable.
While drinking fresh water?
We glimpse her sensuality.
She combines such clarity.
She heightens awareness.
If She was over occupied with her rouge red lip makeup - Chiyo would not have been able to see the and appreciate the natural Realty.
She would Not have been able to enjoy and appreciate the fresh clear spring water.
It's a clear spring.
It mountain flows.
She cupped her hands.
She sighs a`ah! Refresh.
Dogen was a Zen Teacher.
Dogen wrote if we forget:
The idea is to forget`Self.
We see the 10,000 things.
We care. We notice Other.
We see the morning dew,
sunbeam upon raindrops,
and Awareness expands.
We sense wonder. Humanity.
We perceive who are cooks,
kooks,, crooked, frauds,
Egos will ruin` Self.
It's true. Hamartia.
We'll miss the mark.
We'll be blinded too.
I was reading from:
a book `haiku mind.
ed: Patricia Donegan
There is 108 haikus `
brief poem - Heart`
Cultivate awareness.
I just could not resist.
A true person will not
beg for vain flatteries.
None know everything.
I had to express. sighs.
It's been bugging me.
Steven, you end by saying: "After January 2010, I stopped reading anything Glenn Greenwald posted." I am wondering how you knew about the content of last week's piece dated 12/31/11 by Glenn unless you read it?

While I stopped reading Maureen Dowd about ten years ago I would never stop reading what Glenn Greenwald has to say.

I read Greenwald’s post via the link provided in Weiss’s post. Perhaps “stopped reading anything Glenn Greenwald posted” was a poor choice of words. I basically stopped going directly to his site
Greenwald is too extreme for my taste.

As far as corporations being people, It wouldn't be such a problem if a corpration were allowed one vote and was restricted to a $2500 campaign contribution like an ordinary citize, but when they are allowed to contribute unlimited funds and influence elections through s-pacs, well, that doesn't sound like any citizen I know of. The Citizens United ruling is total BS.
Wow. Glenn Greenwald tells truth to power. I don't think it is Greenwald's identity that is in trouble here. Glenn is not perfect. No one is. But Glenn is a voice that lights the path away from a vastly amoral status quo. My own personal peeve is his unquestioning loyalty to some blog and media celebs I consider have betrayed too largely to ignore like Maddow and Hamsher. But I look to him as a rare earnest, honest and fighting-massive-denial voice in a now fascist country. I will question over and over the legions of bobble-headed crony Dems and faux progressives who rally their low-info and pathologically-minimizing-own-party's-betrayal fellow tribesmen and women to to go after the messengers of truth to now gloves off fascistic US governmental power. Obama is the American Judas, but instead of finding real leadership and calling him out which is vital to the recovery of our republic, so-called progressives keep up the hypnotic lemming march deeper into fascism, defending him in the false choice election kabuki rituals. You speak of "real" progressives? Some identity work is called for for yourself and all of us these dark trying days of the US citizen soul.

I think Ron Paul would be a dangerous leader because of his domestic policies and perspective. On the danger meter next to Obama and his imperialistic war-mongering and constitution-gutting? I choose Ron Paul as the FAR lesser of two evils in a heartbeat!!!! As for telling people to avoid reading Glenn Greenwald who role models real critical thinking and courage and truth to power telling, you really frustrate and disappoint me. He is not the danger to America and a threat to citizen critical thinking! libby
I'm glad I saw this post Steven. While I read Greenwald a couple of times a week, I hadn't connected the dots as you do. But you've failed in one way - I'm going back to reread Greenwald with this new perspective.
I frankly, don't have a problem with corporations being considered as a person. What else, pray tell, could they be made of? Farm animals? Really? I don't understand the logic that says if you're part of a corporation you get a free pass on the need to be responsible.

Inside or out of a corporation, individual responsibility does not change. In other words, if you weren't so convinced corporations would behave badly - if you thought they were on the side of the angels - you wouldn't give shit about their being granted free speech rights. That's not the basis on which rights are handed out!

Even when abused, civil rights must still be observed. Sucks, huh?
Glenn Greenwald a "Randian Libertarian"? Sorry, but that's absurd.

In fact, you should read his column today, which contains this quite rational quote:

"For those who are extremely dissatisfied with the status quo in American political life and are seeking ways to change it, supporting one of the two major-party candidates in the 2012 presidential campaign as the principal form of activism offers no solution. That’s not an endorsement for resignation, apathy, non-voting, voting for a third party, or anything else. It’s just a simple statement of fact: on many issues that progressives themselves have long claimed are of critical, overarching importance (not all, but many), there will be virtually no debate in the election because there are virtually no differences between the two candidates and the two parties on those questions."
Thank you for this. Greenwald is interested in only one thing--His own inflated ego. How he became a leading voice of the Left is beyond incredible. He doesn't even call himself a progressive. Reading any of his two or three thousand word rants is like getting a root canal without Novocaine. He is an enemy of progress and nothing more.
It's also interesting that Greenwald today links to a video of Dennis Kucinich saying, in 2008, that he would consider Ron Paul as his VP running mate.
The trouble with literalists is that the *word* they harken back to did not, was not able to, take into account all possibilities, especially those appearing centuries later. There should always be room for re-interpretation in light of new circumstances, and for humanitarianism.

Yes, literally, the right to speech doesn't specify human beings - but it's stupid to say that opens the way to corporations. The obvious intent was human beings. And it's clear to all that interpreting it as including corporations is gonna be big trouble.

So Greenwald's solution to corporations' spending money on their free speech is for the government to throw in yet more money? Christ.
Greenwald may be called many things, but a living, breathing John Galt? No. Compare Greenwald's opinions to those of Allen Greenspan, who was a devoted follower of Rand.
I too have stopped reading Greenwald. Too extreme in too many ways and too self-absorbed. Don't read Dowd either, for different reasons. I get uncomfortable when I read them, based on intangible feelings of dysfunction -- it comes through their writings.
I find it hard to read Glenn Greenwald lately, but I still do it. I tell myself that it can't hurt to turn the lens upside down and look at things from a different angle; I don't agree with him much of the time though.
Greenwald flirted with the socialist label for the last two years. He even went to Socialism 2011 in Chicago where he gave a speech on "civil liberties under Obama." It was brief. There was a smattering of applause.

In the end, the term you're searching for to describe Greenwald is bourgeoisie. He will twist and veer and and veer back again, until the economic crisis is over (if it ever gets there entirely), and then he'll go back to the same old cottage-industry liberalism that got him to where he is in the first place.

If you haven't read it already, you need to read the paper he wrote for the Cato Institute on legalizing drugs:
You’re right BOKO. Greenwald tends to wear whatever hat that best provides him with the maximum media exposure at the time (and anything that helps promote his book sales).

Thanks Dr. Bramhall for the link - Interesting study.
I guess you read into him what you've already decided you're going to see. He has said repeatedly that he will not judge the constitutionality of any law by whether he likes the outcome. He made it clear that he did not like the outcome of Citizens United, but that he could not use that as a basis for criticizing it. I find this YouTube clip from The Young Turks sheds light rather than heat on the whole Citizens United issue.

You admit yourself that you've stopped reading him. If you choose to criticize him, it's only fair that you read him. Don't rely on snippets selected by his critics to support their own agendas.

I understand what you’re saying about Greenwald’s stated attempt to “not judge the constitutionality of any law by whether he likes the outcome.” But, I disagree that “he made it clear that he did not like the outcome of Citizens United.”

Please view the Greenwald – Kucinich debate that I highlighted in my post. Glenn doesn’t emphatically state that he “didn’t like the outcome of Citizens United.” But rather, he defends the ruling based on his interpretation of the “constitutionality” of the ruling, which as I stated above is pure nonsense.

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer. If he fails to understand that the constitutional intention of the Bill of Rights is to protect the “individual” rights of American citizens (persons), then perhaps he doesn’t really understand the basic principles of his chosen field of endeavor.
I read Glenn Greenwald for months before commenting. Then - All was okay until Glenn G. was hired by Salon. I'm weary of mentioning it.
Peace . . .
I have his 2- books.
I have saved emails.
Greenwald is Glenn.

I'll never understand.
If anyone wants books?
No go to library. Free.

If we are jailed? Saw?
Send hacksaw in cake.
If jailed we worry if:
We have any fees on book.
We have nightmare, huh?
Peace . . .
Public library book fees.
Pay overdue library fees.
Be able to sleep in peace.
I never thought of Glenn Greenwald as being a true progressive. He has been a useful idiot for the rightwing Libertarians for quite some time.
I beg to differ. I read Greenwald every day, as I have for years, and the current dustup rests on a lot of false assumptions about what he said about Ron Paul in the first place. Greenwald never "endorsed" Paul; he only said that he was the only candidate of either party questioning our current militaristic, authoritarian course that, thanks to Obama, has evolved into bipartisan consensus.
As have other writers, from Jay Rosen to Kevin Gosztola, my feeling is that without Paul, not a soul would be talking these issues, from either party. Further, so-called "liberal" concerns, such as rampant inequality, are only exacerbated by the War Machine and its bipartisan advocates.
I often disagree with Greenwald, but I can't possibly accuse him of choosing his emphases for some sort of personal aggrandizement; were he so inclined, he could have hopped the wingnut welfare gravy train long ago.
My fear is that as progressives, under Obama, have acquiesced to right-wing positions they previously despised, they begin to adopt the censorious habits of mind right-wingers employed to sell them in the first place. To my mind, boycotting Glenn Greenwald is no different from shutting out all news except Fox. It's illiberal.

As I admitted in a comment above, my statement that “I stopped reading Glenn” was a poor choice of words. I do visit his site from time to time, usually when another analyst links to it. I agree that boycotting Glenn is no different than becoming a Fox News zombie. Reading all points of view and trying to understand the meaning behind the words are positive liberal traits that I strongly endorse.

I have to admit though that ever since Glenn supported the Citizens United decision two years ago (a position I very strongly oppose), I have been viewing his writing with a jaundiced eye.

Thanks for your comment.
apology. I hope I'm not hamming it up.
Frances Bacon rewrote a old Psalm.
I may post it. I hope he no eat bacon.
I came back wondering if You reconciled.
I'd get deleted because I sent beets to banker.
I was strongly Opposed to sending money.

Shocked! Why send -$ Banking Committee.
I felt like I ate a bad fortune cookie that day.
The Fortune Cookie read - You get Sick`Gin!

Moses may frown on eating ham on rye bread.
I appreciate your response, Steven. My own take is that Glenn's career took place after Buckley v. Valeo became settled law, and in his lawyerly application of stare decisis, he may adhere a bit to closely to the previously novel concept that money=speech. Personally I align with the dissent in that case, which said, quite plainly, that money is property, not speech. As such, the concept of one man, one vote, is hopelessly perverted into an equation of dollars with votes.
I disagree that he "supported" Citizen's United; he merely claimed it was valid under settled law, which is arguably true, although I of course think the settled law is BS.
Maybe it's because he has FIVE, count 'em five, dogs, and as such is a tad cuckoo.... ;)
Five Dogs?? That explains it.
I look at your Blog once in awhile.
I miss Jebbie, Pedinska, and many.
I can't view comment on any Post:
@ Salon
I gave up trying to reconcile there.
I learned much. IT was adversity.
I'd wake early and read comments.
'SUN magazine' had great comments.
I'll browse magazine - read comments.
I saved most all my comments @ G.G..
I saved my emails. I tried to reconcile.
Pedinska said Jebbie has a new lung.
Pedinska commented on my blog too.
Someone deleted Pedinska's comment.
Pedinska gave my Granddaughter Gifts.
She gave one book: Light in the Attic -
by Shel Silverstein - sketch and poems.
Pedinska gave hardy banana plants.
My son separates the roots. Thanks.
Michael has a dozen Banana Trees.
I read a poem in a book by a Friend.
Robert H. Deluty - it's senyu critique.
It's to jest and view human nature.
It's a 17- sylable ancient poem style.

Title: ' Walking Through Many Lives'

I gave a few books to Michelle Obama.
I asked my son to hand deliver them
gay man and his Mom
in a French cafe, flirting
with the same waiter
That is not a nasty dig.
I came to Glenn's support.
I commented the day he wrote.
Mr. Greenwald was @ old UT.
I was always respectful. Other?
I wonder who Klytus-blogger was?
I saved DCLaw1 - etc., old comments.
stopped for speeding,
the old man considers
weeping softly
I am heading to the farm.
Thanks. You can delete.
I always smile for sanity.
Kerry must give account.

I’ve been giving some thought to your last comment defending Glenn Greenwald’s interpretation of the constitutional “correctness” of Citizens United, and I have to admit that my BS meter started ringing. You stated that his “lawyerly application of stare decisis” was based on Buckley v. Valeo. Frankly, I’m impressed that you possess such insight into SCOTUS’s look into the corporate financing of elections.

But it wasn’t the corporate financing rulings that I was addressing in my post. The real concern that I have is with Glenn’s understanding of the basic principle of the Bill of Rights. That is, these ten amendments were written to “vest rights in persons.”

Based on these fundamental principles, Citizens United cannot be considered in any way to be “valid under settled law.” – Because it is invalid under the basic principles of the Constitution.

Your statement that Glenn’s premise is “arguably true” is way off the mark