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secrecy 1, transparency 0

August 21, 2013

Well, the news is in. Pfc. Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified information, including a video of a 2007 US helicopter attack in Baghdad in which civilians, including two journalists, were killed.

It seems like only a few decades ago, people who exposed the state secrets and abuses were considered whistleblowers and given relatively fair trials, even under a Republican administration (e.g., Daniel Ellsberg). Today, they’re tortured and given 35 year sentences (which is actually on the ‘lenient’ end), and under a Democratic administration no less. The news of Manning’s sentence and the ongoing hunt for Edward Snowden brings to mind a paragraph from Hal Draper’s prescient 1967 article “Who’s going to be the lesser-evil in 1968?“:

So besides Tweedledee-Tweedledums and besides the Lesser Evils who really are different in policy from the Greater Evils, we increasingly are getting this third type of case: the Lesser Evils who, as executors of the system, find themselves acting at every important juncture exactly like the Greater Evils, and sometimes worse. They are the product of the increasing convergence of liberalism and conservatism under conditions of bureaucratic capitalism. There never was an era when the policy of the Lesser Evil made less sense than now.

In my opinion, once people start to realize that simply voting for one party or the other (an electoral version of the ‘lesser of two evils‘ principle) doesn’t really make that much of a difference, that there’s something inherently wrong with the system itself, the better off we’ll be. And that goes double for those of us on ‘the left’ since one of the biggest problems with the lesser of two evils strategy is that it consistently pulls the Democrats farther to the right (e.g., in many ways, Nixon was arguably more liberal than either Clinton or Obama).

I think it’s high time we started thinking outside the box of two-party electoral politics, stopped blindly supporting the lesser evil as our sole act of political activism, and started doing more to hold those in office accountable for their actions, which includes rallying around government whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden.


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