Glenn Greenwald: Man of the Left

Over the years, some of Glenn Greenwald’s most ardent defenders, writing in VC blog comments and to me personally, have promoted the idea that he came to his foreign policy views from a unique perspective, completely independent of standard left-wing ideological commitments. Contrary to my impression based on his foreign policy writings, I was told, Greenwald has eclectic views, or, indeed, may even be a libertarian [because most of our old comments have disappeared in our transition to the new server, I can’t link to specific examples of such comments on old posts]. I happened to stumble upon a recent Greenwald column at The Guardian, his new home, which strongly suggests that Greenwald has left-wing views on economic policy, with more than a dash of conspiratorial thinking thrown in. Given the importance his fans have placed on arguing to the contrary, I thought I’d quote it here:

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”.

Of course, being a man of the Left, even the conspiratorial left, doesn’t inherently make one right or wrong on any given issue, and I sometimes even agree with Greenwald.

UPDATE: I just happened on one of the old comments in question, by one “Mona.” She defended Greenwald here two years ago, and after a two-year hiatus, popped up again today. Here’s what she wrote two years ago: “Greenwald has no ‘on his side of the spectrum,’ save those who are committed to civil liberties and opposition to wars of choice. Ideological labels are all but totally irrelevant to him, causing various others to label him as right-wing, paleocon, leftist, liberal, libertarian and etc.”

And the point of the post is not to debate Greenwald’s silly views on entitlements, nor to suggest that it’s important to pigeonhole people. Rather, it seems to me that Greenwald gets away with saying some egregiously ignorant things because his fans, like Mona above, seem to think that he is a pure-hearted civil libertarian immune from normal ideological motivations. Once you realize he’s just a run-of-the-mill left-winger of the sort who can be heard 24/7 on the likes of Pacifica radio, it should all become much clearer.

Also: Some commenter seems confused. I cite Greenwald’s views on Social Security and Medicare not because I think it’s important that he thinks that these programs are actually financially sound. Rather, I cite them because he thinks that the overwhelmingly “liberal” media and policy elite don’t just have a particular issue wrong, but are in fact intentionally deceiving the public because they are wealthy, hate entitlements, and want to screw the average American. Their purported liberalism is thus just a facade as they serve their own class, the ruling class. Now is that’s not reflective of a conspiratorial far-left perspective on domestic policy, I don’t know what is.

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