Buried in all the other excitement this week was the announcement that Chelsea Manning, the transgendered Wikileaker, is running for the Senate in Maryland as a Democrat. This announcement has gotten a great deal of adverse press from the right, but I think we need to stop and look at this in more detail.
First, the transgendered business: we need to face reality that, as long as we live in a society where one’s life is defined by one’s sexual activity, it not being optional or restrictable, this will happen, because it’s easy in a society as obsessed with conformity as ours to find oneself cornered by that obsession. If we address the underlying cause, we will be closer to resolution, although it’s a steep uphill climb.
Turning to the leaker business, many Republicans and conservatives simply regard Manning as a traitor. In this case that assessment really shouldn’t matter: it isn’t the job of Maryland Republicans to vote for a Democrat anyway. Manning’s first contest is in the Democrat primary, and it’s here that things really get complicated. He is the perfect Democrat in a party which loves perfection until it doesn’t.
I am one of those people who still think that the phrase “patriotic liberal” is an oxymoron. Liberals (or leftists) are supposed to be internationalists. They’re always telling us that other countries are better because they have things like lots of paid leave and holiday, universal health care, better educational systems, lower defence budgets, etc. If other places are really better than we are, why be loyal to this one?
Our society, however, is highly duplicitous; liberals are glad to be internationalists as long as it suits them. When it doesn’t suit them is when they get into power; all of a sudden, they become very patriotic, because it’s suddenly their country, and we’re all supposed to love it and be loyal to it even as they change its very nature. That was very much on display during the years when Barack Obama was President. He was obsessed with leaks and secrecy (as James Rosen found out) and even with those in the media who simply wanted to report the facts (as Sharyl Attkisson found out.) Obama never pardoned Manning, he only commuted his sentence, probably as a sop to those in his party who, although wrong, are at least consistent.
And then there’s the matter of secrets themselves. The simple truth is that our government keeps too many and collects too much information. How much good it does is debatable; the Soviets’ intelligence gathering apparatus didn’t prevent the collapse of the USSR, and it’s not obvious that we’re looking at what we know with any more understanding than they did. Our Congress supinely renews legislation to extend their powers to do so. In reality, they’ve breached the “safeguards” built into this kind of legislation before, they can collect pretty much what they want and bury it in the classification system.
It’s interesting that some of Manning’s statements about the bureaucracy and security apparatus could have just as easily come out of an alt-right person. Our political spectrum is actually circular; if those on either side of the ring gap could cut a deal with each other, things would be very shaken up in our society.
My guess is that Manning’s campaign won’t get any further than Code Pink’s Cindy Sheehan’s did against Nancy Pelosi. Since the days of George McGovern, the Democrat party has been the home of people like Manning until it isn’t, and it isn’t when job security and power are on the line. That’s especially true in Maryland; like Northern Virginia, which has pushed that state purple, the DC suburbs’ bureaucracy dwellers will probably look at Manning as an existential threat. But such areas, to paraphrase Portfirio Diaz, are so far from God, so close to Washington, and Manning will find out that the proximity to Washington will, for the moment, trump the distance from God.