Tulsi Gabbard Is Not What You Think She Is

By Stan Goff, long-time anti-war activist and retired veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces. First published on Goff’s blog, Chasin’ Jesus.

The recent defeats of Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, as well as the ongoing neoliberal resistance to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom have led many of the left’s guardedly hopeful into premature despair. Elections are like sporting events. When the clock stops, whoever is ahead wins. But politics is not a sport, and our tendency to think of it that way has blinded many to the tectonic shift represented by this abrupt — in political time — emergence of a strong social democratic pole in the bourgeois democracies after being ratcheted to the right for decades via the formerly hegemonic Washington Consensus.

There was never going to be a reemergence of the left without a concomitant reactionary emergence, if history is any guide; and that is what we are witnessing. Whatever opportunity the left has in the real world is one that will inevitably be situated in this dangerous polarization, which can neither be grasped nor fought out so long as it is understood in terms of gamesmanship. This tendency to despair in the face of actually stunning advances (which have not yet reached the threshold for electoral success, but which are closer than we’ve been in many years) is attributable to this myopic perspective.

This game-perspective and electoral fetishism are responsible for the increasing background noise about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard as the next Bernie Sanders — that is, as a presidential candidate for 2020. The politics of tokenism is irresistible within the framework of political game-theory; and Gabbard is seen by her acolytes as checking several boxes at once: female, person of color (she’s part Samoan, and her father — a State Senator known for his vocal homophobia — is a part-Samoan convert to Hinduism), and here’s the kicker . . . a military veteran. And her endorsement of Sanders has enamored her to many former Sanders supporters who have not looked more deeply into her record or asked questions about her motivations. I, for one, have caught the fetor of opportunism from her from the moment she caught the Sanders wave; and I believe she understands what the left should understand. The age demographic — the arrow of time — is on the side of the left.

About 8 million Americans fifty-five and older will have died between 2016 and 2020; and around 15 million will have turned eighteen — voting age. Between 30–44 years old, Sanders and Clinton were in a near dead heat. Between 45 and ancient, Clinton enjoyed an almost four to one advantage. Under 30, and Sanders had an almost four to one leg up on Clinton. Now do the math for 2020.

Whoever can run as a Sanders — and this will take more than social democratic “positions,” because much of Sanders’ appeal was his likability and the perception that he was honest — will beat the cowboy shit out of whoever runs as Clinton. Putting Gabbard in this position would be a disaster.

When you itemize Gabbard’s public positions on the main fare, she is a standard Democrat, who is not even listed among the members of the Progressive Caucus. Her critical vote scorecard from Progressive Punch is an F, rating her 136th overall, between Dwight Evans (PA) and Mark Veasey (TX). She has carried water for billionaire uber-Zionist casino magnate, and Trump-buddy Sheldon Adelson. And she loves to post pictures of her in her Army uniform, an opportunistic cash-out of her veteran status which ought to trouble anti-militarists.

Perhaps more troubling than her essentially centrist politics and her cozy relationship with Adelson, however, is her selective if vicious Islamophobia and her willingness to associate with anti-immigration reactionaries. When sharing the stage with the execrable Islamophobe and nitwit Bill Maher, she dressed down then-President Obama for not calling “violent extremism” “Islamic extremism,” adding that we have to “identify our enemy to defeat them.” Once a strong supporter of drone attacks, Gabbard has essentially endorsed Russian and Assadist bombing in Syria, because they are ostensibly targeting ISIS. I am not an advocate of US military intervention anywhere, so this is not a call to arms, but by the same token, if one opposes militarism, then one ought to oppose Russian and Assadist militarism as well. Nor am I tapping into the insane post-Cold War Russophobia of shills like MSNBC, but opposing conspiracy theories does not mean calling Putin and company a bunch of angels. Leftist apologists for Putin/Assad often forget that it was Assad’s commitment to neoliberal “reforms” that set up the social crisis that Assad’s own government then escalated into a full-blown civil war. Gabbard proceeded to jump the shark with an ill-conceived January trip to Syria to meet Assad himself.

And during the bloodthirsty seven-week Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014, Gabbard co-sponsored a lying Congressional Resolution that claimed Israel has restrained itself and attacked only “terrorist” targets during that campaign.

When Donald Trump began appointing generals to cabinet positions, Gabbard came to his support, calling opposition to Trump’s Strangelovian clambake of uniformed lumpen-intelligentsia nominees “discrimination against veterans,” and claiming that military people are “far more deeply personally committed to upholding and protecting our democracy than their critics.”

Really? This is who people want to run for president against the next Clinton?

Gabbard has refused to support a ban on assault weapons. She has supported Trump’s anti-immigration initiatives. And her connections to her own father’s friends and staff — who were at the forefront of conservative campaigns against what she herself in 2004 called “homosexual extremists” (people who wanted to get married) — remain firmly in place. Google “Devon Bull.” And in 2014, she shielded the violent, right-wing, Islamophobic BJP in India from Congressional review.

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Gabbard with Islamophobic BJP’s Narenda Modi

The thing about Gabbard is, she adapts. She saw the Sanders wave, and she started paddling her board.

She now says she opposes drone strikes and supports marriage equality. Eoin Higgins, who has followed Gabbard for some time, says that “jettisoning political beliefs that are no longer useful in her quest for power” is Gabbard’s M.O.

That’s why she has repeatedly scrubbed her past.

Her first marriage, for example, to Eduardo Tamayo, from 2002–2006, when she and Tamayo were active members of a homophobic Hare Krishna cult led by a sketchy character named Chris Butler aka “Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa,” founder of the “Science and Identity Foundation,” living to this day in an opulent Hawaii mansion. Gabbard maintained a connection to Butler at least until 2015, when she sent him a video birthday greeting for his fiftieth. Gabbard’s current husband, Abraham Williams, grew up in a family with close ties to Butler.

Five of Gabbard’s nine biggest campaign contributors were major contributors to her father (a right-wing Republican who converted to right-wing Democrat, these conversions are a family tradition).

From the point of view of trustworthiness, she gets an F. On foreign policy, her Islamophobia, connections to the BJP, her disrespect for the civilian control of the military, and support of hard core Zionists loses. On judgement — let’s talk Syria trip — big F. On vulnerability during an election? Fuggetaboutit. She’s toast the minute an opponent goes for Swami Jagad Guru.

Lefties, and lefty-allies (like moi) this is not your hope for the future. Organize among the people. That is the soil. When the elections come, then you get the fruit.

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Groupthink is a contradiction in terms.

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