Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How the Debates Purposely Confuse the Issues and Why Glenn Greenwald's Truths Piss Off the Left (and the Right)

Did you watch the "Townhall" debate last night?

Here's the real news from our "Explainer-in-Chief:"

If you watched the Vice Presidential debate you may have noticed in almost awelike wonder the same phenomena I did.

I saw Martha Raddatz, a well-known name in journalism, use certain phrases again and again that were demonstrably not true but that couldn't have been anything else but right-wing memes meant to make her appear "neutral" on the most important issues, or at least unbiased in her position as moderator.

So, before being run over by tonight's deadly debate train remember that this is just more theater.

For the powerful.

Not US.

Glenn Greenwald addresses my concerns exactly, and reveals why many in positions of power actually want nothing to do with unbiased coverage of the issues (and his (and my/our) reaction to it).

Martha Raddatz and The Faux Objectivity of Journalists

Establishment journalists are creatures of a highly ideological world and often cause ideology to masquerade as neutral fact

Numerous commentators (including me) were complimentary of the performance of Martha Raddatz as the moderator of Wednesday night's vice-presidential debate. She was assertive, asked mostly substantive questions, and covered substantial ground in 90 minutes. That's all true enough, but the questions she asked reveal something significant about American journalism in general and especially its pretense of objectivity.
For establishment journalists like Raddatz, "objectivity" is the holy grail. In their minds, it is what distinguishes "real reporters" from mere "opinionists" and, worse, partisans. As they tell it, this objectivity means they traffic only in straight facts, unvarnished by ideology or agenda. This journalistic code obligates them to speak only from what NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, citing the philosopher Thomas Nagel, derides as "the View from Nowhere", a term Rosen explains this way:

Three things. In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position 'impartial'.

Second, it's a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it's an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance.
Leave aside whether that is even a desirable mindset. The reality is that, as desperately as they try, virtually no journalists are driven by this type of objectivity. They are, instead, awash in countless highly ideological assumptions that are anything but objective.
These assumptions are almost always unacknowledged as such and are usually unexamined, which means that often the journalists themselves are not even consciously aware that they have embraced them. But embraced them they have, with unquestioning vigor, and this renders their worldview every bit as subjective and ideological as the opinionists and partisans they scorn.
(In fact, one could reasonably make the case that those whose thinking is shaped by unexamined, unacknowledged assumptions are more biased than those who have consciously examined and knowingly embraced their assumptions, because the refusal or inability to recognize one's own assumptions creates the self-delusion of unbiased objectivity, placing those assumptions beyond the realm of what can be challenged and thus leading one to lay claim to an unearned authority steeped in nonexistent neutrality.

That is why I believe that journalists who candidly acknowledge their opinions are better at informing others than those who conceal their opinions: conceal them either from others or, as is often the case, even from themselves.)

At best, "objectivity" in this world of journalists usually means nothing more than: the absence of obvious and intended favoritism toward either of the two major political parties. As long as a journalist treats Democrats and Republicans more or less equally, they will be hailed – and will hail themselves – as "objective journalists".
But that is a conception of objectivity so shallow as to be virtually meaningless, in large part because the two parties so often share highly questionable assumptions and orthodoxies on the most critical issues. One can adhere to steadfast neutrality in the endless bickering between Democrats and Republicans while still having hardcore ideology shape one's journalism.
The highly questionable assumptions tacitly embedded in the questions Raddatz asked illustrate how this works, as does the questions she pointedly and predictably did not ask.
Let's begin with Iran, where Raddatz posed a series of questions and made numerous observations that she undoubtedly believes are factual but which are laden with all sorts of ideological assumptions. First there is this:

RADDATZ: Let's move to Iran. I'd actually like to move to Iran, because there's really no bigger national security...
RYAN: Absolutely.
RADDATZ: ... this country is facing.
Ryan's interruption made it difficult to hear whether Raddatz said that there is "no bigger national security threat the country is facing" or "national security issue". Either way, the very idea that Iran poses some kind of major "national security" crisis for the US – let alone that there is "really no bigger national security" issue "this country is facing" – is absurd. At the very least, it's highly debatable.
The US has Iran virtually encircled militarily. Even with the highly implausible fear-mongering claims earlier this year about Tehran's planned increases in military spending, that nation's total military expenditures is a tiny fraction of what the US spends. Iran has demonstrated no propensity to launch attacks on US soil, has no meaningful capability to do so, and would be instantly damaged, if not (as Hillary Clinton once put it) "totally obliterated" if they tried. Even the Israelis are clear that Iran has not even committed itself to building a nuclear weapon.
That Iran is some major national security issue for the US is a concoction of the bipartisan DC class that always needs a scary foreign enemy. The claim is frequently debunked in multiple venues. But because both political parties embrace this highly ideological claim, Raddatz does, too. Indeed, one of the most strictly enforced taboos in establishment journalism is the prohibition on aggressively challenging those views that are shared by the two parties. Doing that makes one fringe, unserious and radical: the opposite of solemn objectivity.
Most of Raddatz's Iran questions were thus snugly within this bipartisan framework. At one point, she even chided Biden for appearing to suggest that Iran may not be actively pursuing a nuclear weapon: "You are acting a little bit like they don't want one" (Biden, of course, urgently disclaimed any such view: "Oh, I didn't say – no, I'm not saying that").

To the extent that she questioned the possibility of attacking Iran, it was purely on the grounds of whether an attack would be tactically effective, citing former defense secretary Bob Gates' warning that that such an attack "could prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations", and then asking: "Can the two of you be absolutely clear and specific to the American people how effective would a military strike be?"
Note what Raddatz did not ask and never would. Even after both candidates re-affirmed their commitment to attacking Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon (Biden dismissed Gates' warning about an attack by saying that "it could prove catastrophic, if we didn't do it with precision"), there were no questions about whether the US would have the legal or moral right to launch an aggressive attack on Iran.
That the US has the right to attack any country it wants is one of those unexamined assumptions in Washington discourse, probably the supreme orthodoxy of the nation's "foreign policy community".
Worse, even after Biden boasted about the destruction of the Iranian economy from US sanctions – "the ayatollah sees his economy being crippled. … He sees the currency going into the tank. He sees the economy going into freefall" – there was no discussion about the severe suffering imposed on Iranian civilians by the US, whether the US wants to repeat the mass death and starvation it brought to millions of Iraqis for a full decade, or what the consequences of doing that will be.
In sum, all of Raddatz's questions were squarely within the extremely narrow – and highly ideological – DC consensus about US foreign policy generally and Iran specifically: namely, Iran is a national security threat to the US; it is trying to obtain nuclear weapons; the US must stop them; the US has the unchallenged right to suffocate Iranian civilians and attack militarily. As usual, the only question worth debating is whether a military attack on Iran now would be strategically wise, whether it would advance US interests.
One can say many things about the worldview promoted by her questions. That it is "objective" or free of ideology is most certainly not one of them.
Exactly the same is true of Raddatz's statements and questions about America's entitlement programs. Here is the "question" she asked to launch the discussion:

"Let's talk about Medicare and entitlements. Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process.
"Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?"
That social security is "going broke" – a core premise of her question – is, to put it as generously as possible, a claim that is dubious in the extreme. "Factually false" is more apt.

This claim lies at the heart of the right-wing and neo-liberal quest to slash entitlement benefits for ordinary Americans
– Ryan predictably responded by saying: "Absolutely. Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts." – but the claim is baseless.

As the Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times economics reporter David Cay Johnston has repeatedly explained, this is the primary demonstrable myth being used by the DC class – which largely does not need entitlements – to deceive ordinary Americans into believing that they must "sacrifice" the pittances on which they are now living:

"Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty?
"Why, social security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.
"That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.
"So why all the talk about social security 'going broke?' … The reason is that the people who want to kill social security have for years worked hard to persuade the young that the social security taxes they pay to support today's gray hairs will do nothing for them when their own hair turns gray.
"That narrative has become the conventional wisdom because it is easily reduced to a headline or sound bite. The facts, which require more nuance and detail, show that, with a few fixes, Social Security can be safe for as long as we want."
That Medicare is "going broke" is as dubious and controversial a claim as the one about social security.

Numerous economists and fact-checking journalists have documented quite clearly why this claim is misleading in the extreme.
Yet this claim has also become DC orthodoxy. That is because, as the economist Dean Baker has explained, "Social security and Medicare are hugely important for the security of the non-rich population of the United States," and "for this reason" many Washington media outlets and think tanks "hate them".
Nonetheless, Raddatz announced this assertion as fact. That's because she's long embedded in the DC culture that equates its own ideological desires with neutral facts. As a result, the entire discussion on entitlement programs proceeded within this narrow, highly ideological, dubious framework. As Jonathan Schwarz put it after the debate:

schwarz tweet That is what this faux journalistic neutrality, whether by design or otherwise, always achieves. It glorifies highly ideological claims that benefit a narrow elite class (the one that happens to own the largest media outlets which employ these journalists) by allowing that ideology to masquerade as journalistic fact.
These establishment journalists are creatures of the DC and corporate culture in which they spend their careers, and thus absorb and then regurgitate all of the assumptions of that culture. That may be inevitable, but having everyone indulge the ludicrous fantasy that they are "objective" and "neutral" most certainly is not.

Miscellaneous debate matters

In the reaction I wrote shortly after the debate ended, I said that Biden repeatedly denounced Ryan for having "voted to put two wars on a credit card" even though Biden did the same thing. It was actually worse than that, as Biden seemed at one point strongly to imply that he voted against those wars:

And, by the way, they talk about this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?' It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, no, we can't afford that.
Like much of what Biden says, this is far from a model of clarity, but it would at least lead a reasonable listener to believe that Biden voted against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But not only did he vote to authorize (and repeatedly fund) both, but he was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002 and his support for the attack on Iraq played a major role in shaping a pro-war discourse and then leading so many Democrats to support it.
One more note about Raddatz: near the end of the debate, she asked the two Catholic candidates how their religion influences their views on abortion. This was a reasonable question unto itself, but also reflects standard DC assumptions on these issues.
It is often noted that the Catholic Church stridently opposes reproductive rights. But it is almost never noted that the Church just as stridently opposes US militarism and its economic policies that continuously promote corporate cronyism over the poor. Too much emphasis on that latter fact might imperil the bipartisan commitment to those policies, and so discussion of religious belief is typically confined to the safer arena of social issues.

That the Church has for decades denounced the US government's military aggression and its subservience to the wealthiest is almost always excluded from establishment journalistic circles, even as its steadfast opposition to abortion and gay rights is endlessly touted.

I just love the integrity of this guy. And he's a Republican.

Who can believe that there used to be more of these creatures?

Glenn Greenwald: An Interview with The Art of the Possible


 Oct 12, 2012
Seemingly out of nowhere, Glenn Greenwald burst into the blogosphere in October of 2005 at his former blogspot site, Unclaimed Territory. As a lawyer having practiced law in Manhattan for a decade, including litigating constitutional issues, he was well-equipped to analyze and eviscerate defenders of President George Bush’s ordering the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly engage in warrantless interception of telephone calls and emails of U.S. persons, in blatant violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Indeed, when the New York Times broke the NSA story in December of ’05, Greenwald quickly emerged as the go-to guy for explaining, in readable terms, what FISA requires and why the Bush Administration’s extreme arguments for presidential “inherent authority” to violate any law the Executive doesn’t like – including FISA or bans on torture — were not only meritless, but virtually limitless and radically un-American.

Since establishing himself online as a premier expert on FISA, Greenwald has written three books: How Would a Patriot Act?A Tragic Legacy, and the just-released Great American Hypocrites — all of which shot up to number one or close to it at Amazon. In February of 2007 he was invited to write at Salon, where he continues to blog. Greenwald has appeared on C-Span several times, such as when the Cato Institute sponsored him to discuss his second book, and also was a panelist addressing the state of the media at YearlyKos 2007. Additionally, he has written several articles for American Conservative magazine, and most recently a piece for The National Interest — The Perilous Punditocracy. He has discussed Bush’s FISA law-breaking, foreign policy and the rancid state of the American establishment media on radio shows too numerous to list. 

Currently, Greenwald is completing a study of Portugal’s drug-policy reforms for The Cato Institute.
Lately, Greenwald’s blogging has largely focused on the media and its slavish devotion to GOP-peddled narratives and trivialities, as well as the astonishing fact that various neoconservatives whose views have been demonstrated to have disastrous consequences, continue to hold respectable positions in the elite media. Greenwald pounds home the absurd reality that neoconservatives remain a staple as interview subjects on news programs and treated as if they are Serious foreign policy experts, notwithstanding their incredible track records of being wrong — Iraq! — and that they often agitate – explicitly or implicitly — for yet more wars.

He lives most often in Brazil with his domestic partner, because that nation recognizes their same-sex relationship as a legal basis for Greenwald’s residing there. The reciprocal is not true of the United States, where Greenwald’s Brazilian life partner could not qualify to reside here based “merely” on their domestic partnership.

[Editor's note: Any links to Greenwald's Salon posts above or below will require a BRIEF, quickly by-passable ad click-though the first time one such link is clicked. It is worth it.]


AoTP: Glenn Greenwald, welcome and thank you for agreeing to this interview. To begin, we’d like to know how optimistic you are that The Way Things Are vis-a-vis imperialistic foreign policy holding nearly unquestioned status by an approving media — and even by most in both major political parties — can be changed so that the more humble foreign policy envisioned by the Founders could gain some traction?

GG: I’m relatively optimistic about this for one reason: Iraq. The extent of the occupation’s unpopularity can’t really be overstated. Huge numbers of Americans believe the invasion was a mistake, that they were misled into supporting the war, that it has made us less safe, etc. Those perceptions can’t but undermine the reflexive support Americans have had for invasions, bombings and wars. It has eroded the underlying premises that the Government espouses to convince citizens to support imperialistic policies. It has made Americans even more distrustful of official pronouncements from both the Government and establishment press. All of this has worked to erode the tools used to convince the citizenry to support our ongoing imperial project.

At the same time, none of this is going to be uprooted overnight. Our abandonment of our republican origins and pursuit of empire has developed over decades. Many of the concepts used to justify it are embedded in our political culture. Change is happening inexorably, but structural change of this sort, absent violent upheaval, is necessarily incremental.

AoTP: You are Jewish. Therefore, aren’t you “supposed to” advocate that the United States’ foreign policy interests and Israel’s are identical, and thus endorse extensive U.S. military intervention in the Middle East?

GG: There’s a misconception that American Jews largely support the neoconservative agenda. They simply don’t. Polling data on this question is unequivocally clear. A recent poll from the American Jewish Committee, surveying American Jewish opinion, found that in large numbers, they disapprove of the way the U.S. is handling its “campaign against terrorism” (59-31); overwhelmingly believe the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq (67-27); believe that things are going “somewhat badly” or “very badly” in Iraq (76-23); and believe that the “surge” has either made things worse or has had no impact (68-30).

More strikingly, when asked whether they would support or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran, a large majority — 57-35% — say they would oppose such action, even if it were being undertaken “to prevent [Iran] from developing nuclear weapons.” While Jews hold views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which are quite pessimistic about the prospects for Israel’s ability to achieve a lasting peace with its “Arab neighbors,” even there, a plurality (46-43) supports the establishment of a Palestinian state.

People like Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman are not only a small minority among Americans generally, they represent a minority of American Jews. Another recent poll, this one from the nonpartisan Israel Project, found that the vast majority of American Jewish voters have priorities that are indistinguishable from American voters generally, and it is only a small minority of those voters for whom Israel is a top priority:

“Three quarters of the American Jewish community say that there are other issues more important than Israel,” . . .only 23 percent of the Jewish population listed Israel as a top issue. . .While 51% of the respondents acknowledged that the economy and jobs were their major concern, only 7% cited the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the threat of Iran.”

AoTP: In your second book, A Tragic Legacy, you lay the blame for U.S. war-mongering, especially in the Middle East, largely at the feet of neconservatives, while allowing that there are also some “garden variety hawks” involved in the equation. Many neoconservatives hold elite positions in the Establishment media and are regularly consulted on cable news. What do you think motivates neoconservatives, and why do they remain so popular in “high places?”

GG: The term “neoconservatives” now encompasses a large group of people, so it’s difficult to describe “their” motives as though they’re a monolith. Some believe generally that the U.S. should be a militaristic society and ought to dominate the world by military force, and thus have as their top priority the building up of an Enemy to justify those policies. Others, of course, have deep — really primary — allegiances to Israel, and perceive that endless domination of the Middle East by the U.S. is in the interests of Israel.

They are able to occupy high positions because the central premise of our political culture is that those who favor war and militarism are strong and patriotic, while those who oppose it are weak and subversive. Until that premise is uprooted, neoconservatives will have a place at the table of power, no matter how discredited and radical they are exposed to be.

AoTP: Your blogger profile rose exponentially when you became arguably the best source for understanding FISA, and the implications of the Bush’s claimed authorities for years of violating it. You were absolutely dogged on the matter, both in your legal analyses and insistence that the issue should be an important scandal. Do you take satisfaction from your work in that regard, and to what extent do you think some justice and correctives have resulted?

GG: I absolutely think that the work of bloggers (and their readers), along with related activist groups, changed the outcome of the FISA and surveillance debates. There was a long period of time after the NSA story was first revealed by the NYT when there was almost nobody other than a small handful of people writing about the NSA lawbreaking specifically and especially the theories of the omnipotent Executive underlying all of it.

And the recent victory in the House, where House Democrats finally refused to comply with the President’s orders and refused to give him vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and telecom amnesty, would not have happened without the work of bloggers and their readers. There just wasn’t anyone else interested in those issues, and the usually invulnerable bipartisan cast of Beltway lobbyists, pundits and other assorted operatives were all lined up in unison to make sure those measures passed. That’s a small victory, but I think it reveals a template for how these battles can be waged with increasing potency.

AoTP: You very seldom, if ever, write about gay and lesbian issues per se. Yet discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation directly affects where you live, since you and your domestic partner — who is Brazilian — cannot be together on any regular basis in the U.S. Do you hold strong views about anti-gay laws in your own country?

GG: The state of American law with regard to same-sex couples is an ongoing disgrace. America is one of the very few countries in the world — along side countries such as China and Yemen — to continue to ban HIV-positive individuals from immigrating. And the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from extending any benefits (including immigration rights) to same-sex couples means that we put our gay citizens whose partners are foreign nationals in the excruciating predicament of being forced either to live apart from their life partner or live outside of their own country. That is reprehensible.

Most civilized countries, even those that don’t yet recognize same-sex marriage, refuse to put their citizens in that situation. Brazil was a military dictatorship until 1985. It has the largest Catholic population of any country in the world. And yet I’m able to obtain from the Brazilian government a permanent visa because my Brazilian partner’s government recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly “free,” liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition.

AoTP: You’ve done an enormous amount of valuable, original investigative work at your blog, in magazine articles and in your books exposing the corruption of the Establishment media; it’s willingness to obediently spew GOP talking points and narratives about domestic and foreign policy, and to focus on petty and inane trivialities such as Obama’s bowling score or how much John Edwards pays for his haircuts. Some feel a resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine is at least a partial answer to our media malaise. Do you?

GG: I tend to be a First Amendment absolutist and cringe at the prospect of government regulation over our means of expression. I understand the sentiment behind the Fairness Doctrine. I believe that media consolidation under the control of an ever-shrinking number of large, homogeneous corporations is a serious threat to free political discourse and investigative journalism.

But I believe that developing alternatives to that monolith — such as those developing on the Internet and elsewhere — is a far more attractive solution to that problem. I don’t understand how anyone, after watching the abuses of the Bush administration for the last eight years, would want to vest in government officials the power to judge the content of what goes over the airwaves. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to assume competence and benign intent on the part of political officials when deciding how much power to give them. We ought to assume the worst about them — about their abilities, integrity and motives — and only then, based on those suppositions, should we decide how much power, and what specific powers, we’re willing to vest in them.

AoTP: You’ve been holding up various mainstream media figures to contemptuous examination: WaPo’s Fred HiattJoe KleinMark Halperin (former Political Director of ABC News and now a political analyst for Time Magazine and editor at large)John Harris (former National Political Editor of The Washington Post), Brian Williams and Peggy Noonan are just a few examples. Do you envision that your focus on the media’s sins will continue?

GG: The subversion of our Republic, its political values and our constitutional framework could not have occurred without the full-scale complicity of a corrupt and vapid establishment media, so it’s vital that the focus remain on them. I think there are two vital goals to pursue — (1) revealing what that establishment is and the function it fulfills in order to shame and discredit its members as much as possible (so as to modify their behavior and lessen their influence), and (2) building alternatives so that ideas and information can be disseminated widely without having to rely on those corrupt media institutions.

AoTP: During a recent blogging heads debate you had with Megan McArdle, she repeatedly insisted that the Founders saw no special role for the press, and that including freedom of the press in the First Amendment did not signify otherwise. Yet Thomas Jefferson said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Could you expand on why you disagree with McArdle about the role a free press was and is supposed to play in our republic?

GG: Many of the Founders themselves used a free press to achieve all sorts of political goals. Their writings were rambunctious, adversarial, harsh, and even hostile. For obvious reasons, their primary concern was to create as many checks as possible on abuse of government power, and a vibrant press that would serve as a watchdog over the political class was — as both their actions and words conclusively prove — a key instrument in achieving that. They didn’t protect press freedoms in the First Amendment because they thought it was unimportant. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the dynamic the Founders envisioned for preserving liberty knows the central role they envisioned for a free press.

AoTP: Are there contemporary journalists whose work you do admire?

GG: Yes. There are many journalists, even in the establishment press, who do superb work. The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage almost single-handedly cast light on the administration’s use of signing statements to proclaim a presidential right to float above the law. The Washington Post’s Dana Priest engaged in exemplary investigative journalism to reveal the existence of CIA Black Sites throughout Eastern Europe where we disappear our detainees beyond even the monitoring of international human rights agencies. Reporters at McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder) did an enormous amount of work, in obscurity, to debunk key administration claims prior to the invasion of Iraq. And there are all sorts of great investigative journalists working independently, on blogs, and in other venues.

The problems of the establishment media, the reason it exists as a propaganda amplifier for the government, are systemic. But there are absolutely individual reporters devoted to fulfilling the most noble functions of journalism. They’re just far too small in number to affect the overall impact that the establishment media has.

AoTP: With reference to your being nearly a First Amendment absolutist, when you you were practicing law you defended the extremely racist and anti-Semitic Matt Hale in several civil cases prior to his criminal conviction, and you’ve blogged rather extensively in opposition to “hate speech” crimes. Was free speech imperiled in the Hale civil cases, as you saw it?

GG: Absolutely. Very well-funded groups were trying to create new precedent where groups with unpopular views could be held liable for the actions they “inspired” with their words. They were trying to subject Matthew Hale and his Church to bankruptcy-inducing civil liability based on the theory that the expression of his White Supremacist ideas led others to go and commit acts of violence against minorities.

The threat to free speech from such pernicious theories is manifest. If you give a speech about the domestic threat posed by Islamic groups inside the U.S. and someone hears you and goes and kills a Muslim — of if you give a speech on the evils of corporate power and someone hears you and is inspired to go kill a CEO — these theories would mean you could be liable for those acts. It would render free speech a nullity.

That has been tried before. In the South, in the 1960s and 1970s, there were attempts to bankrupt the NAACP and various chapters by claiming that boycotts they sponsored inspired people to commit violence in order to enforce them. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that such theories of liability are barred by the First Amendment. But, as always, people don’t care much when the same efforts are made to whatever group happens to be the one expressing the Hated Ideas of the day. That’s why the Founders barred attempts like that with the guarantees enshrined in the First Amendment.

AoTP: The About page at our site describes how we are pursuing a dialogue between, on the one hand, liberals, and on the other, libertarians who have been made unwelcome by a GOP/neocon-dominated-conservative-movement which many libertarians cannot support. Do you find value in such a project — which has antecedents in liberal blogger’s Markos Moulitsas arguing the case for “libertarian Democrats” at Cato Unbound, and calling for an alignment between libertarians and Democrats? (Kos’s argument was met with mixed reactions on both sides of the proposed ideological hook-up.)

GG: I think that many liberals have become much more skeptical of government power and the notion of trusting government leaders as a result of the abuses of the last eight years. Obviously, there are some of them who will quickly lose that skepticism and distrust if there is a Democrat in the White House, but — while recognizing this is just speculation — I honestly believe that’s a minority. I think the radicalism of the last eight years in terms of expansive government power has engendered a real political realignment and made liberals and libertarians far more natural allies than libertarians and those on the Right.

AoTP: You eschew all political labels yourself, even as many have seen fit to tag you as something. But many of your views — such as on the individual’s right to own a firearm, anti-drug-war (Update I)and even criticism of the prescription drug system in which one may not secure a drug without permission from an MD — would fit comfortably within a libertarian worldview, although those positions alone would not necessarily put you in that camp. Do you see value in some parts of libertarian philosophy?

GG: I eschew labels and the act of embracing or rejecting them because they mean too many different things to too many people to have value. They create more confusion than clarity. And, as I just indicated, I think there has been a political realignment over the past eight years that has made those labels even less useful. Worse, labels are often used as shorthand to relieve people of the burden of thinking about someone’s argument (”Oh, he’s just X, so of course he believes that.”) I prefer to advocate my views on an issue-by-issue basis and let others decide what labels they think apply.

AoTP: What do you envision you will be doing five years from now? Is blogging a long-term commitment, and if so, what would you like to able to add to it?

GG: I am extremely passionate about the work I’m doing, which — purely on a personal level — is the most important consideration for me in deciding what I want to do. Daily blogging is an extremely demanding activity, because its demands are so constant and relentless. So while I can’t say how long I expect to continue to blog on a daily basis — and, for now, I still love it and intend to do so indefinitely — it’s impossible for me to envision a full-scale cessation of political writing. The issues that I care about require a long-term battle and they’re ones I’m very devoted to pursuing.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 5th, 2008.

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