Progressivism in America is confused, like Chris Christie looking at a full plate of salad. The battle lines have been redrawn, agendas have been reset, and it can be hard to tell who’s on our side anymore. 2016 made it abundantly clear that our noble desire for social justice has been seized and manipulated to force us to support corporate crony war hawks like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton; progressives who were reluctant to jump on board the Clinton train were threatened with the loss of Roe v. Wade, gay marriage and equal rights for all races. Many eventually succumbed to this psychopathic act of political bullying, and understandably so.
One of the most confusing and controversial figures on the political left today is Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, whose bold independence defies all the convenient boxes people like to put each other into for the sake of cognitive simplicity. She’s more pro-gun than many progressives are comfortable with, and she never shies away from using the term “Islamic extremism,” which ruffles some PC feathers here and there, but she’s also one of the last surviving anti-war Democrats, is a vocal environmentalist, and, despite internal pressure from her former donors, was among the first to support the presidential run of the only progressive in the Democratic primary. In fact, throughout this entire election cycle Gabbard has consistently come up on the progressive side of every single issue, from leaving her high-level position at the DNC to endorse Sanders when all the other staff illicitly kept their positions and tried to rig the election for Clinton, to her criticism of Clinton’s warmongering, to her flying to Standing Rock with thousands of other war veterans to act as a human shield from law enforcement’s militarized brutalization of the water protectors, to her outspoken opposition the no-fly zone in Syria that neoliberals the world over have been braying for.
Of all the areas where she stands in cool defiance of the corporatist agenda, it is her stance against interventionism in Syria that is pushing against the political establishment most aggressively. Gabbard recently authored a piece of congressional legislation titled the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (or as I like to call it the Stop Arming Terrorists You Fucking Idiots Act), which openly accuses the US government of supporting terrorist organizations with money, arms and intelligence to facilitate regime change wars around the world, and calls for a ban on this evil behavior. It is of course an indisputable fact that the US government does this, but no one else on Capitol Hill has had the cojones to forward a bill demanding to know where everyone in Congress stands on the matter until Gabbard. While most progressives have been focusing on the Sanders-backed medications reform bill in the Senate the last few weeks, Gabbard’s bill is unquestionably the more rebellious and status quo-threatening piece of legislation. You may be certain that the oligarchs would much rather allow you to purchase cheaper medications from Canada than lose their ability to use terrorist groups to facilitate regime changes. It is a direct confrontation with not just the elected political establishment, but with the unelected deep state as well.
Gabbard’s bill has fanned the flames of an argument that had gone virtually undebated for far too long: what exactly is happening in Syria? Are there any “moderate rebels,” or are jihadists and terrorist factions the only groups fighting the Syrian government? Could it really be true that the US government has knowingly formed an alliance with ISIS in that region? Depending on their individual agendas and their need to avoid the crushing cognitive dissonance inherent in the probable answer to these questions, people have been coming down on one side of this debate or the other. It’s kind of a difficult debate to have, because there haven’t been any mainstream western media organizations on the ground in that area. Members of the press are too afraid to go anywhere near that chaotic war zone, and the few brave individuals who’ve dared to go there like Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett have been smeared and slandered as Assad puppets and Putinists when they report their findings.
So what did Tulsi Gabbard do? In order to bring substance to her side of the debate, she packed up her clothes, her gun and her Indiana Jones whip (I’m assuming), and then went there to go investigate.
That’s right, while everyone else was in their comfy homes bickering and arguing about moderate rebels and no-fly zones, Gabbard said “the hell with this” and went charging right into the belly of the beast. Taking another member of the critically endangered species democrat antiwaricus named Dennis Kucinich along for the ride, Gabbard flew to Syria on what her aides are describing as a fact-finding mission, visiting both the nation’s capitol Damascus and the war-ravaged city of Aleppo. The House Ethics Committee approved the trip, but it was kept secret from everyone else.
Predictably, the liberal media has been losing its mind over this and trying to find ways to throw shade on Gabbard’s bold move without looking too ridiculous. The Atlantic ran a story about her trip titled “Tulsi Gabbard, The GOP’s Favorite Democrat, Goes to Syria,” and Politico ran one titled “Gabbard won’t disclose who’s paying for secret trip to Syria”. Many stories were published emphasizing how “controversial” Gabbard’s move was, often going to great lengths to point out how her anti-interventionist stance on Syria aligns with Donald Trump’s, as though that in itself is an inherently bad thing. The CIA trade rag Washington Post mentioned Trump’s name four times covering the story, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Donald Trump. This is a transparent attempt by establishment media to capitalize on the aforementioned confusion within the political left by associating Gabbard’s move with a political enemy, despite her anti-war goal being in clear alignment with the progressive agenda.
That’s the sort of shifted progressive battle that Gabbard is fighting on the front lines of. She doesn’t move the way we used to imagine a progressive hero moving, but she’s easily the most clear-eyed rebel in DC right now. When I look at the fights she picks and look at the people on both sides of the political aisle that she offends by picking those fights, it’s clear to me that she’s got a keen insight into the nature of the sickness that pervades her government, and she’s attacking all of its most vital areas exactly where they’re the most vulnerable.
I’m sure as hell glad she’s on our side.