I had the special privilege of seeing one of my heroes, Glen Greenwald, speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison last night.
I get all tingly even thinking about it. Simone constantly refers to him as my "boyfriend" and becomes particularly agitated when I indulge in heavy drink and begin spouting political points and facts culled from his blog on Salon.com. I came across Greenwald, an author and former Constitutional Law attorney, in the fall of 2006 during the final years of the Bush/Cheney junta. I immediately recognized a kindred spirit who was as adamant as I in calling for reversals in the Constitutional abuses perpetrated by the administration and demanding the prosecution of its leading figures for the war crimes and treason that have, until this very day, gone unpunished. The best part was, Greenwald was speaking this truth to power so eloquently and convincingly that he perfectly gave voice to the outrage that I could only encapsulate through profanity laced tirades, primeval grunting and finger puppets. It didn't hurt that he was worlds brighter than myself either. It's nice to be humbled on occasion.
His talk was on the war on terrorism and the continuing civil rights abuses under the Obama administration. For the Democrats and liberals still on that particular charlatan's bandwagon, few, if any, of the promises regarding preventive detention, military trials, surveillance, the closing of Guantanamo, black sites, fear mongering, the slaughter of civilians, prisoner rendition, et al have been honored and, in some cases, the abuses have even worsened under the new Imperial regime. Greenwald has been an outspoken critic of this regardless of the political affiliation of the powers that be. It is that dedication to even-handedness that initially drew me to his writing. Amongst the partisan bickering, the culture wars, and the latest "he said/she said" nonsense of the mainstream media's manufactured news, Greenwald has been a steady voice of reason - pointing out the astonishing hypocrisy of not only the policy makers and politicians who foment the divisiveness, but also calling out the media punditry that grease these wheels of unaccountability and convenient political amnesia.
His lecture last night focused on an interesting aspect to the erosion of our civil liberties in the age of the "war on terror" by focusing on the absolutism of rights as laid down in our nation's founding documents. He proudly wears the badge (given to him by the execrable Joe Klein of Time) of "Civil Liberties Extremist", viewing it as a backhanded compliment. He feels, given the unconditional nature of our rights (the only true "American Exceptionalism" that exists) it would be unconscionable to defend them with anything but full rigor. He contrasted this concrete understanding of civil liberties (primarily citing the Bill of Rights) with the more murky use of the term "terrorism" - pointing to the irony that the non-descript use of the latter was causing irreparable harm and incremental erosion to the definitive former. The convenient selectivity of how America labels acts as "terrorism" and players as "terrorists" (instead of "insurgents" or "rebels" or "freedom fighters") tells us quite a bit about ourselves and the hypocrisy we indulge in. A good example of this was Greenwald's point regarding our media and government's perception of Iran as a dangerously unhinged and aggressive nation while we are the ones who are militarily occupying two Muslim countries on its borders. He wondered how we might be behaving if the situation was reversed and Iran waged war on and occupied Mexico and Canada for ten years running. He also highlighted a very interesting fact that I have always expressed as well when we start ringing the alarm bell on "rogue" nations abroad - Iran has not made an aggressive act of war or invaded any other country for over two hundred years. Would anyone care to count how many acts of aggression the United States has rung up in that period?
In essence, Greenwald noted, the word "terrorism" has become a handy device to shut down debate, instill fear, disseminate propaganda and keep the citizens from asking too many prying questions regarding the foreign policy of its government. A brilliant supplant for the now dead bogeyman of communism, which served the same purpose faithfully for the fifty years prior to September 11, 2001. He admitted to being astounded, impressed even, at the remarkable speed and ease with which they replaced our international bête noire. The new and improved enemy of freedom! Now with swarthier, more primitive packaging!
There was a lengthy Q&A after the talk and he, as always, comported himself well. In answering, he touched on the mid-term election results (more a comment on "Blue Dog" democrats than the progressive left), the growing security state, possible common ground between progressives and Ron Paul libertarians, the foolish belief in empowering the executive branch while your party is in office (power is never ceded or returned no matter who occupies the White House), the heroics of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, and the lock step bi-partisanship of the dueling parties when it comes to foreign policy, particularly with regard to Israel.
It was a pleasure to see him in person after reading and agreeing with so much of his writing. There is no greater defender of civil liberties working today and, I would argue, no better voice in the contemporary political arena when it comes to matters of reasoning, consistency, ethics, and intellectual honesty. He has made me a better American, a better appreciator of the rule of law, a better writer and, just perhaps, a better thinker. I unequivocally recommend his work to anyone seeking greater political truths.
Heaven knows many of us need it.
*** You can view the lecture here.