Julian Assange is not a terrorist.
Let's just get that out of the way. While we're at it, he's also not somebody who we should be trying to lock up in prison as a spy, because he would love nothing better. He's not a journalist either.
Most importantly, he's not a hero.
Incidentally, nobody should be surprised by this. There may be real heroes in the world, but they are vanishingly few. And we progressives are used to being led by false ones.
There is no math that will tell you that a 2000 Presidential election without Ralph Nader would have produced a President Bush. Not only did he campaign aggressively in pivotal states, he spread the obscene lie that there was no significant difference between Bush and Gore. Four years later he has the chutzpah to claim that the significant amount of donor cash he was collecting from Republicans had nothing to do with this. Lately he's been a guttersnipe, who has unrepentantly referred to Obama as an Uncle Tom. which puts into perspective his 1996 refusal to come out against the referendum in California on ending affirmative action
This is the same man who founded PIRG, which in addition to its invaluable advocacy work employed yours truly for... part... of a summer in '04. If it weren't for Ralph Nader, I would never have been invited into the home of a mostly-dressed middle aged beatnik couple from Wilmington, MA-- who had clearly been fucking when the doorbell rang-- to discuss energy efficiency standards. It was one of the few days I exceeded my donation quota.
I'm sorry, I got lost there for a moment.
The impact of Ralph Nader's life's work is unquestionable. Imagine, for a moment, how different your life would be today if cars weren't required to have seatbelts. It's hard to even contemplate. But as was said by Harvey Dent in that crowning political work of our time, Batman, the Dark Knight: You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Some of our country's worst moments are--and mind you not without accomplices-- causally linked to the fact that so many progressives mistook 2000 Ralph Nader for a hero. We ought to know better by now.
Of course, you probably don't actually support Julian Assange's politics, because he's an anarchist. He believes that government secrecy in and of itself bespeaks an authoritarian conspiracy. Apparently this includes not wanting Russian diplomats to know that our diplomats see Vladimir Putin and Dimitri Medvedev as a kleptocratic Batman and Robin.
Assange isn't doing what he's doing so that you know what your government is up to and are informed as a voter. He's doing what he's doing so that people who work in governments no longer trust each other, and become ineffectual to the point of international diplomacy crumbling and governments falling under their own weight. He sees the world as a series of nails, and himself as the wielder of a hammer that would make John Boehner blush, if bronzefolk are capable of blushing.
Julian Assange is also, apparently, a Rorschach test. Conservatives have been waiting for some time for an intellectual they could pound their fists about and call a terrorist. Speaking of which, I'd like to take this time to thank Joe Liebermann for his invaluable support in getting DADT repeal over the goal line, and declare "good riddance" re: the entire rest of his career. He and others have pounded their fists on the table and called for, among other things, Assange's assassination. Because what we really need are more people gathering under Assange's banner.
In any case, the response from conservatives is easily predictable. The last two years in conservative commentary and politics have consisted of lies, damned lies, and a total lack of statistics. But what of the so-called "reality-based community" that we Progressives participate in? Why are so many on the left demanding that Julian Assange be thought of as something that he's not? They say he's for transparency, and if that were true, there wouldn't be an entire Wikileaks splinter group that split off precisely because he isn't. They say that the accusations of sexual assault in Sweden are trumped up, but if that were true, wouldn't he have something more to say about it than "this is all just about a broken condom," which couldn't be true, as that would imply that he was only being accused by one woman.
The extent to which Assange's defenders in the United States have dismissively parroted the phrase "sex by surprise" and the distortion about the condom without once considering that maybe-- just maybe-- his accusers are telling the truth is appalling. Instead of taking a step back when the police report was leaked, many criticized the Guardian for running it.
This break with reality doesn't stop there. Many prominent progressives lost their shit when Obama administration officials touted the bill that extended the Bush tax cuts as a second stimulus. They said that Obama had swallowed the trickle-down economics Kool-Aid, despite the fact that the compromises exacted from Republicans in the Senate have proven stimulative effects. The mantra that tax cuts don't create jobs was more important than the truth. Similarly, Keith Olbermann and Arianna Huffington recently decried the Obama administration's announcement of a year-long study of government regulations with an eye towards simplifying some and cutting others. They said he'd swallowed the Tea Party Kool-Aid that regulation kills jobs, and in so doing, at least Arianna seemed to imply that regulation could never kill jobs.
I was put off by it at the time, despite being a huge fan of Keith's. (Arianna Huffington has never impressed me, and I think it's telling that her first foray into politics was to call for Bill Clinton to resign over the Lewinsky scandal), but the next day, the CBS Evening News ran with this:
(Available also in HTML flavor)
Redundancy is great for computer systems, networks, and point defense, but it's rubbish for rulewriting.
Does this suggest that there's something to it every time a Republican goes to the House or Senate floor and decries the newest Democratic bill as being 'just more burdensome, job-killing regulation'? Of course not. For some time now, Republican politicians have come to town claiming to want to overhaul regulation, and then wind up only focusing on the good ones. Are we really going to get outraged because Obama might suggest that frozen cheese pizzas and frozen pepperoni pizzas be regulated by the same fucking agency? Did he not thoroughly demonstrate, in the fights for both Healthcare and Wall Street reform, that he believes that regulation done right is a good thing? Are we so pissed off that he didn't tilt at windmills over the Public Option that we take every chance to say that he's just the same as the other guys?
We have said that it's time for our political discourse to change. This is undeniable. But we'd be fools to only focus on the intensity of partisan rhetoric. I call on anyone of any political inclination about to write a column or a blog post, or appear on cable news to do their research first. If you can support your argument, declaim it with passion but with restraint. If you can't, say something else. It's time for us all to stop being salesmen and start being teachers.