Bradley Manning to the Rescue...of Republicans?
Bradley Manning, who goes by "Chelsea" because he thinks he is a woman, could end up as the unlikeliest hero in history for Republicans. The soldier-traitor-"transgender" activist recently announced a bid for Senate in the deep blue state of Maryland, securing a place on the ballot in the Democratic primary. Manning is challenging incumbent Senator Ben Cardin, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Wonder of wonders, Manning could end up handing a safe Senate seat for Democrats to the GOP, balancing out the loss in Alabama for the Grand Old Party.
Manning is many things to many people. To veterans and current military personnel, he is an unrepentant traitor who carelessly handed over classified information to WikiLeaks, putting active-duty troops in danger. To leftists and libertarians, Manning is a whistleblower who bypassed traditional media outlets to warn the world about America's war crimes.
Even the government is split on what Manning is. For indiscriminately sending 700,000 military field reports and diplomatic cables to a Russia-friendly foreign entity, Manning was charged with numerous crimes, including espionage. But, after serving seven years of his 35-year sentence, former president Barack Obama commuted his sentence.
Traitor or hero, treason or bravery – whatever your take, Manning has come to represent the radical, anarchic side of the progressive ideology. His social media profile depicts him clad in black Antifa wear. His postings are a sugary mix of feel-good pabulum and emojis more befitting of a teenage girl than a man in his thirties.
Manning's campaign announcement video is a low-budget mix of confused righteousness. In this one-minute clip, Manning declares that we live in "trying times" with flashing clips of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The problem, Manning insists, is that nobody is willing to fight back against our feckless leaders. Therefore, we need to "stop expecting that our systems will somehow fix themselves" and, in return, "take the reins of power" back.
Manning confidently asserts at the end, "You're damn right we got this," repeating the same banal hashtag that has become a staple of his self-focused Twitter missives.
The contradictions overwhelm. Manning denounces the political class while simultaneously pleading to be part of it. He claims that "we don't need more or better leaders" while, again, pitching himself as a worthy Senate candidate, one of the highest leadership positions in the country.
The whole aporia reminds me of the Yeats poem "The Great Day," where the Irish poet facetiously heralds a revolution:
HURRAH for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.
Manning denounces the very system he wishes to be a part of. What his message is, outside being a vessel for identity politics to actualize within the world's greatest deliberative body, is unclear.
That hasn't stopped and outpouring of support for his candidacy, though. The more strident parts of the leftist coalition that forms the Democratic Party are cheering his bid while denouncing naysayers as "transphobic." When Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden spread the theory that Manning is a Putin patsy who is purposefully taking on one of the most hawkish Russia critics in the Senate, The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald went for the jugular, penning an incisive commentary titled "Centrist Democrats Launch Smear Campaign Against Young Transgender [sic] Woman [sic], All to Keep an Old, Straight, White Man in Power."
As schoolchildren like to chant when two classmates exchange blows: fight, fight, fight!
For all the talk of a civil war between Republican voters and the party elite, little attention is being paid to the internecine squabble threatening to destroy the Democratic Party from within.
The tension within the party has always been there. From the Port Huron Statement to Ralph Nader's insurgent candidacy in the 2000 presidential race, hardcore progressives and middle-of-the-road liberals have bitterly fought out their differences, only to mostly settle on the party standard-bearer. The short-lived feud between Hillary Clinton and socialist Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016 was more of the same, with Sanders eventually conceding support to Clinton despite her campaign's underhanded tactics to handicap his candidacy and disenfranchise his supporters.
Manning's campaign is different. The forces that drive the progressive left have been made manifest in a belief of non-conciliation – of hostile aversion, not traditional politics. As Mark Lilla writes in his new book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, the identity-focused politics behind Manning is the legacy of the New Left of the '60s. Lilla notes that the activist wing of the Democratic Party has broken with the solidarity ethos of the Roosevelt era, embracing hyper-individualism. "And as interest slowly shifted from issue-based movements to identity-based ones," he writes, "the focus of American liberalism also shifted from commonality to difference."
The Democratic Party is irreparably split between one faction obsessed with personal liberation and another willing to work within the system for incremental change. There's nothing moderate Democrats can offer Manning and his ilk. Unisex bathrooms aren't enough. Affirmation of their sexual identities isn't enough. Even a commuted sentence isn't enough to stop the assault on the party elite.
The left wing of the Democratic Party already is slamming incumbent Senator Ben Cardin for voting to end the government shutdown. This may presage backing for Manning in the June 26 primary election. Given the low turnout customary in primaries, the activist base conceivably could turn out in numbers sufficient to give Manning a win. While Maryland is a deep blue state, its residents are capable of electing Republicans to statewide office when the Democrats become too dysfunctional. Ask Maryland's Republican governor, Larry Hogan.
There are innumerable reasons why Manning is unfit for public office. His previous crimes, however well intentioned, were recklessly treasonous. He has a known history of attempted suicide attempts, which, if the science is to be believed, is driving his current gender dysphoria. Then there is the obvious question: why should Manning be a senator? What experience does he bring to the table, besides spending countless hours in the brig?
The vacuity of Manning's message won't deter his supporters. For them, this isn't about politics. It's about expressing anger, discontent at the status quo. Fury is no way to govern, but it does fuel political campaigns. The problem is, crusades of resentment are liable to combust.
Republicans should prep themselves to watch it burn.