Disorientation and delirium abound, out there in the margins on the campaign trail. You can always count on the emergence of a number of horrid features—corruption, injustice, sophistry, turmoil—that, when pooled together, form a portrait of relentless ugliness. Accordingly, many observers—most of whom are on the outside, looking in—naively believe that the painting of this portrait is a procedural matter, that coherence invariably follows cynicism. The ominous truth is that cynicism really has nothing to do with comprehension, and sometimes the misanthrope is even more clueless than the optimist. Do you see that man who staggers down the street, swatting at pests that only he can see? Formerly, he was a cocksure journalist who prided himself on his dry pragmatism. Now he is nothing but a common psychotic, devastated by the dreadful apprehension—though not the recognition—of some tragic crime that was perpetrated against . . . what was the victim’s name? Gabbard, something? Ah, who knows: whatever monstrosity he perceived, only he can try to make sense of it now—and therefore, only he can fail to make sense of it, too.
Perception, after all, is a personal process, a private matter, and if this phenomenon has broken the madman, then he has broken internally only. We will leave him to his pain, inflicted from within, and review the catastrophic damage, inflicted from without and upon, Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign. Undoubtedly, you have already learned that the Democratic National Committee didn’t invite Tulsi Gabbard to the third televised debate; the Committee would have loved to see Gabbard on the stage, but its hands were tied, you see, as Gabbard simply didn’t poll highly enough for the Committee to think her message was worthwhile.
To an enlightened person, this is a very touching compliment: to be rejected by a Committee so irredeemably corrupt, and to be deemed unsuitable for the squalid medium that is corporate television, likely affirms that one is performing respectable work, indeed. But enlightenment is scarce in the United States, and this waving of the hand by the DNC has snuffed Gabbard’s meager flame, effectively killing whatever chance she had of winning the nomination of the Democratic Party. Why she would desire that bloodstained tiara is an interesting question, but now we are at risk of repeating ourselves. For now, everyone wants to know if Gabbard intends to suspend her campaign, if she will run as a third-party candidate, if she will hurl a Molotov cocktail through Tom Perez’s living room window, etc.
Gabbard has declared, on several occasions, that she will not abandon her campaign, which is still a campaign for the nomination of the Democratic Party. She’s still making the rounds, still making speeches in the states that hold the earliest primaries and caucuses, including New Hampshire, my home state, which she hadn’t visited in almost two months. She had been here briefly—very, very briefly: she drove from New Jersey, slept for a few hours, spoke to a news broadcaster for an hour, and then hurried to the airport—in August, but the visit was a bit too breakneck and evanescent for me to write a full article about it. Her real return, a three-day tour beginning on 09/05/2019 that would culminate in her appearance at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention, was much more anticipated, but more mysterious, too: what does a candidate do when she is declared persona non grata by the very party whose nomination she is trying to win?
Shockingly, she drew much larger crowds during this last appearance, post-exile, than she did on her tour of the Granite State on the Fourth of July. Her first stop was at the public library in Weare, a village which I’m sure you have never heard about, but at noon on a Thursday, it was packed far beyond legal capacity. Later in the evening, a rally at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashua drew a crowd of equal size, as did a discussion with Lawrence Lessig in Dover on the following night. Obviously, I can’t say why every individual person showed up, but at each event, she took questions on her exclusion from the debates, her criticism of the polling system, her interest in an independent campaign, etc. From what I can gather, the DNC has inadvertently sparked a natural curiosity among people as to why she can’t appear in the debate—in other words, the DNC is generating free publicity for the Gabbard campaign, even as the establishment contends with the hangover of the #TulsiDidntQualifyParty.
As I write this, I am reminded of rumors that Gabbard has now reached the murky threshold of a third “approved” presidential poll. If these rumors are true, and if this success, inchoate though it may be, can be attributed to skepticism born of the DNC’s shenanigans, then it will be interesting to see how the DNC plans to decapitate this hydra, this hydra of its own irresponsible breeding. In making politics a widespread cultural obsession, with relentless coverage of the Trump carnival, Washington appears to have forgotten about the inevitable problem of political counterculture, of which Trump was actually an early example. You can’t prevent the growth of counterculture, and with our political climate being so tempestuous as it is, the field is ripe for some very strange fruit.
The most Washington can do is attempt to co-opt those countercultural figures and movements, as was apparently accomplished in the Trump Administration. Gabbard, however, represents a much more complicated problem, as her political analysis—which is not the same as rhetoric—has become far more biting and pointed since the DNC cut her from the roster for the third televised debate. For example, she has never been ambiguous in her stance on John Bolton’s warmongering, but during a speech at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashua, she said: “I’m offended when they say they don’t want to go to war with Iran.” She has moved from criticizing the concept of military action against Iran to exposing the doublespeak employed by the government. This is dangerous, even unfamiliar, territory: we expect this kind of multifaceted analysis from a credible journalist, but from a politician affiliated with a major party?
Less convoluted, but by no means less welcome, is her critical assessment of the border crisis. In Weare, she encouraged us to ask why so many people are crossing the Mexican border in the first place, and then answered her own question by explaining that they are fleeing the disastrous results of American military adventurism in Latin America. You do hear this kind of analysis on occasion, even in the corporate media, but her willingness to make this point whenever possible now suggests that she is becoming increasingly frustrated with the political inertia—and that’s a very good thing. She actually drew my attention to something I hadn’t considered before: the border crisis shouldn’t be politicized in the first place, but because one political party is taking a particular position on it, the other party has to take the opposite position, however ridiculous either may be. In other words, the people in cages are reduced to platforms on which politicians can elevate themselves, even though they are doing nothing to help those people.
Are we showering Gabbard with undeserved praise? Have our standards become so impoverished that we will unironically laud a politician simply for telling the truth? I’m not suggesting Gabbard deserves an award for the bravery of her commentary, but at the same time, we can’t overlook her potential to inflict some catastrophic damage on the Democratic Party. Gabbard has continuously acknowledged the inequity of this nominating procedure, and while she has not accused the DNC of tilting the field explicitly, it’s clear that she is losing her patience, especially because, as I said in a past piece, she is expected to yield to the DNC without ever enjoying its political protection. If she were to break, if she were to tire of the corruption and to declare open war on the DNC, then through her platform she could be influential in a way that even the most thoughtful and dedicated journalist struggles to be.
Just imagine it: Tulsi Gabbard explaining on the debate stage that Trump’s sadistic border policies merely continue—or, at the most, escalate—the cruel policies of President Obama. A lovely image, that, but at the same time, you have to wonder how much more of this the DNC will tolerate before it takes direct measures to terminate her political career. I have no idea why the Republican Party put up with Ron Paul for as long as it did, but then again, it’s always seemed that the Democratic Party is more exclusive, more hostile to outsiders; it seems like the Democrats run a much tighter prison. Can you really imagine a left-wing Donald Trump breaking into the Democratic primaries and turning the entire party on its head? The unanimous, no-holds-barred assault on Howard Schulz from the very moment he discusses his interest in running suggests the DNC’s strength in guarding its fortress.
It’s only a matter of time before Gabbard runs afoul of the watchmen at the gates, but perhaps she will find protection in an interesting loophole to the rules. During a conversation with Lawrence Lessig at a presentation in Dover hosted by Equal Citizens, Gabbard criticized the Democratic Campaign Commission for refusing to financially support challengers to incumbent Democrats. Is this refusal related in any way to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s electoral success, a success owed at least in part to the endorsement of one Bernie Sanders, another outsider to the Democratic Party? I can only speculate, but something tells me the aforementioned Commission would love to make an exception to its own (unofficial?) policy by helping some sycophantic newcomer in his quest to escort Tulsi Gabbard out the door.
A brochure distributed at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashua
Fortunately, erasing her is proving to be much more difficult than the DNC likely anticipated—or more so than I expected, at least. Despite the strident and sustained declarations, voted by everyone in the corporate-establishment media, that Gabbard’s campaign is officially irrelevant, hundreds of people attended her most recent rallies in New Hampshire, anyway. True, the crowds are much smaller than they would be for most of the so-called top-tier candidates—for the record, she would still draw a much larger crowd than Julian Castro or Amy Klobuchar—but they continue to grow, even without the media’s support. Earlier, we cautioned ourselves against applauding a politician simply because she didn’t lie, and I suppose now we shouldn’t celebrate the ostensible ability of a few hundred people to think for themselves, but these days, we take the good news when we can.
At the very least, these rallies are no less lively, the audiences no less enthusiastic, than they were before the DNC effectively exiled Gabbard. You don’t get the sense of moribundity that the DNC would love to cultivate around her—and which I did perceive at a Tim Ryan rally that was held on the same nigh as the third debate. There’s no funereal atmosphere, no dreadful expectation that the axe will fall. To be clear, I cannot say that I perceived a reciprocal intensity, a corresponding surge of animation that suggests these people showed up in defiance of the media, in vigorous rebellion, to spite and in spite of the DNC’s intraparty collusion against Gabbard, but that collusion is the elephant in the room, the ominously fascinating subject that remains on everybody’s mind: when Gabbard speaks, we want to know when, and with what kind of language, she will mention the corruption that pervades the DNC.
If nothing else, this subject reduces the amount of time that Gabbard must spend—or squander—apologizing for her inconsistent record and rhetoric on gay rights. Everywhere she goes, she meets someone who asks why she didn’t support gay marriage fifteen years ago. It’s a relevant question, but it lacks historical context for three reasons: firstly, Gabbard changed her stance and became a proponent of gay marriage many years ago; secondly, it is fantastical to imply that Gabbard would sign homophobic legislation in the comparably fantastical event that such legislation even made it to her desk; and thirdly, she has already answered this question too many times to count, including in the first televised debate. If you found her answer to be unsatisfactory, and if you refuse to vote for her on this basis, then that is your right, but that does not appear to be the motivation behind this repetitive questioning: it really seems as if these people who are so concerned about her record on LGBT rights have somehow missed her much more exhaustive record of addressing this record. If you have something new to contribute to this discussion, then by all means, present it; but if all you want to do is ask the same question over and over, then please do your research and spare us the tedium.
Nor are these the only untrustworthy people attaching themselves to the Gabbard campaign. The “town hall” rally on 09/06 was hosted by a man named Lawrence Lessig, an advocate for campaign finance reform whose presidential campaign in 2016 concluded when the DNC excluded him from the debates. In his discussion with Gabbard, Lessig, a vocal advocate for campaign finance reform, examined the problem of voter suppression, which, he argues, are related: as he eloquently puts it, “Politicians spend most of their time sucking up to rich people to get more money.” After listening to him discuss the need to restore the people’s voice, naturally I wanted to hear his take on Julian Assange, which I secured shortly after the rally:
“What he stood for, the principles he stood for of transparency and openness and holding governments to account, are the principles we ought to be defending, and I would love to be able to defend them without having to also defend particular people … [Inaudible]”
Ab universali ad particulare. It’s the same mistake made by Andrew Yang, who assured me he is “generally pro-whistleblower” before taking a precisely contrary stance “in that particular case”. Likewise, the many presidential candidates who answered Charlie Savage’s recent poll expatiated on the virtue of the First Amendment while refusing to explain whether, in their unerring wisdom, the First Amendment protects Julian Assange. While their timidity follows their submission to the military-industrial complex, surely Lessig cannot be compromised by the same entity? Let us hear more of what he had to say.
“There was a question whether the objective was to release the information in a way that would produce change or was it just to release the information. That’s a fair question to ask.”
Actually, it’s not: the information does not become fallacious or criminal on the basis of Assange’s intent. Even if we could prove an immoral intention on Assange’s part—which my imagination fails to produce—such intent would have no bearing on the substance or essence of the information that is released. By extension of this logic, one could defend the voter suppression that is of such concern to Lessig: isn’t such a method meant “to produce change”? At the very least, couldn’t one defend voter suppression if it were proven that the suppressers suppressed to bring about a more desirable result, whatever that may be? Clearly, Lessig’s reasoning doesn’t withstand scrutiny, and it’s just as obvious when I watch the video now as it was when I shot it that Lessig was unprepared for this question, that he was making things up as he went along.
“I was very close to Aaron Swartz … and Assange claimed after Swartz committed suicide that Swartz was a supporter of Assange. I know that’s not true. I know that’s [not] true from Aaron directly. So, when I heard that, I thought, this doesn’t feel like it’s about truth. It feels like it’s about creating attention.”
Can anyone explain to me what this has to do with the prosecution? Assange is not facing trial for misrepresenting Swartz, and such misrepresentation is not illegal, even if it could be proven, so all of this amounts to a curious non sequitur.
When I asked Lessig if he believes the prosecution of Assange constitutes a threat to democracy, he said:
“No. No, no, no. Because I think the values he was fighting for, we have to scream about—in the context of his case, no doubt, but not just in the context of his case.”
It’s a meandering response, reflective of inadequate contemplation of the case; regrettable, because Lessig did have a solid discussion with Gabbard. In addition to campaign finance reform and voter suppression, he spoke eloquently about the military-industrial complex, castigating presidents who “avoid” military service and even challenging Gabbard on her plan to “confront the financial stranglehold” that this complex exerts upon the U.S. government. It’s unfortunate that he cannot see that Assange is being choked out by the same pressure, but his line of questioning did lead to a refreshing observation by Gabbard: how ironic is it that an antiimperialist would be defamed as a warmongering apologist for foreign military dictators?
The former headquarters of Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover, once a giant of New England news publishing.
On my way out of the auditorium at Dover High School, I overheard a discussion about the “unprecedented energy” that seems to be fueling political campaigns centered on restoring power to “the people”. They’re speaking of populism, a term that has resurfaced to the mainstream in the Trumpish Age, but this was the first I ever heard someone describe Gabbard in this way. Will this be the next accusatory slur directed against her, or will her critics have to become a little bit more creative? I thought about these questions on my drive home—home, where I would take a little bit of sleep before heading out to the most shameful and anticipated event of the political season: the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention.
To be continued.