There are certainly ways to disagree with Obama administration policies without ad hominem attacks on Barack Obama the man or those who chose to support him. Saying those supporters would condone the president “raping a nun on live TV” not being among them.
Unfortunately, that was the approach taken by Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald over the weekend, while expressing his outrage over President Obama signing the National Defense Authorization Act.
The annual NDAA is the essential piece of legislation that pays U.S. soldiers’ salaries, funds equipment for troops overseas, buys ammunition, and also pays our military contractors abroad.
In the current NDAA, there is an objectionable provision which allows for the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, which civil liberties advocates fear could apply to American citizens. The potential encroachment on civil liberties justifiably wrangled many, and President Obama even signaled his discontent with the provisions in a signing statement attached to the legislation, insisting that the detention provisions would not apply to Americans.
There is the added possibility that the potentially unconstitutional provisions related to detention will be challenged in court where they could even be struck down by Chief Justice John Roberts and company.
Greenwald has been one of the loudest and harshest critics of the Obama administration, and while not actually a liberal or an Obama supporter, he is frequently identified as a blogger who is “disappointed with President Obama” over what he sees as serious violations of civil liberties. The debate over the NDAA (and U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan) has been ongoing and frequently gets lively between Greenwald and his supporters, and pro-Obama bloggers like Imani Gandy, of AngryBlackLady.com and Balloon Juice (Gandy also contributes to theGrio.)
In a particularly heated exchange on Twitter Saturday night, a blogger named “DrDawg” tweeted about Gandy: “Obama could rape a nun live on NBC and you’d say we weren’t seeing what we were seeing.” In response, Greenwald chimed in, “No – she’d say it was justified [and] noble – that he only did it to teach us about the evils of rape.”
When twitter exploded in attacks on Greenwald for making a “rape joke,” instead of apologizing for the comment, Greenwald doubled down, tweeting that the reference to rape was not a metaphor and in fact Obama supporters would defend the president in the face of “ANY evil: assassinations, child-killings: EVEN rape violent crime like rape.”
“Leveraging rape in that manner is unconscionable,” Gandy told theGrio. And there are certainly racial overtones to the comment, considering the historic narrative of black men being sexually aggressive and even accused rapists in the Jim Crow south. For the first black president to be disparaged in this way is wholly unacceptable.
“All [Greenwald] had to do was apologize,” said Gandy.
Disagreements with the administration for drone attacks that kill innocent civilians, the detainment of terror suspects, and the prison at Guantanamo Bay remaining open are par for the course. Healthy debate on substance is always important. What is not par for the course is a prominent blogger not only condoning a disparaging comment about the president and rape, but reiterating that it is a valid point to make.
Rape should never be employed to make a point — any point — no matter how noble the intent. It is not a tool to be leveraged as a metaphor. Rape is a vicious crime, and the casual nature in which Greenwald condoned the use of rape to attack those who have a different opinion from his own is deeply disturbing.
Rape analogy in NDAA debate is ironic
Meanwhile, an irony of the infusion of rape into a debate in which it doesn’t belong, is that the NDAA that Greenwald finds so offensive, also includes a provision which finally addresses the serious problem of rape, abuse and sexual harassment in the military.
Before this version of the NDAA, servicewomen who are raped were not allowed to transfer to another base or had a very difficult time doing so. Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), who along with Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas fought to get these provisions into the bill has said that, “in civilian life, you have complete control of your movements, and if you’re in an unsafe situation, you can remove yourself. In military life, the victim needs permission to take even basic self-preservation actions.”
The NDAA was also a “must pass” bill — a term for spending bills of vital importance that often attract unwanted policy riders. The president threatened to veto the bill if the objectionable language related to detention was included, but Republicans put it in anyway, putting Obama in a lose-lose situation: veto a bill that needs to be passed and signed into law in order for service members to get their paychecks, or sign the bill with the objectionable provisions and issue a signing statement which addresses those specific portions. President Obama chose the latter.
And for that, even if you disagree with provisions in this bill or if you think predator drone strikes should be stopped immediately — which is a very reasonable position to take — no one should ever employ rape to make that argument.
To argue that defenders of the administration would defend Obama committing rape, simply because they disagree with you on the NDAA, or don’t believe that drone strikes are the most pressing issue of the day, means you have lost the argument.
Greenwald should have debated the NDAA on the merits and apologized for amplifying the rape comment. Sexual assault survivors were certainly offended by trivialization of a trauma to make a debating point, and this incident proves that there are bloggers on the “left” — just as on the right — who have jumped the proverbial shark, and should lose any credibility or respectability they had left.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell