The strange career arc of Tulsi Gabbard

Not only has the former congressperson signed a deal to do video commentary on the Toronto based far right Youtube imitator Rumble, she’s become a regular guest on Fox News.

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Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Early on in the 2020 Democratic primaries, now former Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii won praise from the progressive left for what seemed like her principled stance regarding America and its allies’ interventions turned to disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. This position was given further legitimacy by her military service in Iraq, where she did a tour in a medical unit, as well as her continuing role as an officer in her country’s Army reserves, where she has attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

A little more than four years earlier, during the 2016 primaries, Gabbard established her progressive bona fides when she quit her position as a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders, seeming to show a willingness to buck politics as usual regardless of the possible consequences to her political career.  She earned the ire of the eventual 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the process.

When running herself for her party’s presidential nomination in 2020, Gabbard was almost robotic in her responses to interviewers pressing her on her contrarian position in terms of her country’s foreign policy, often repeating what seemed like scripted talking points about “regime change wars”. Nonetheless, she remained a refreshing presence with her calm, plain spoken style and nods to the unique culture of her home state.

She also won plaudits as a strong advocate of Medicare for All early in the campaign. A position she held until she didn’t, something she rarely spoke of as her campaign began to flounder.

Instead of the M4A legislation supported by Bernie Sanders and other progressives, the former congressperson put forward her own plan on her campaign web-site for a public option that could be supplemented (or replaced) by private insurance for those wanting it, very similar to what Joe Biden promised and has thus far failed to deliver.

The problem with this policy position is that, while it’s better in theory than the system currently in place in the U.S., it would create a tiered system where those using the public option would almost certainly receive a lower standard of care than those able to pay a premium for it.

Many of her most committed supporters in the media, especially those outside of the mainstream with large online platforms, bent themselves into pretzel-like positions to defend her reversal on the issue. Oddly, some of these same commentators went on to support the “Force the Vote” ‘movement’ later on and castigated Congressional progressives like AOC for not spending their limited political capital on what would have been a losing vote in the country’s Congress.

The about face on M4A was, for some of those following Gabbard’s campaign, an early indication that she was willing to turn her back on what she said were long held beliefs, showing a change had occurred between 2016 and 2020. Nonetheless, the attacks of Hillary Clinton and other centrists that she was a ‘Russian asset’ for criticizing their pro-war positions was still greeted with sympathy by most of the progressive left.

In a piece I wrote about Gabbard in February of 2019, I noted some troubling things about her past, especially her work for two organizations that opposed not just same sex marriage but civil unions in Hawaii, positions championed by her father, who was then a vociferously homophobic state legislator.

I concluded at that time that the former congressperson should be given the benefit of the doubt as everyone is influenced by their family growing up and most of us change our social and political opinions over time, a process that should be encouraged when it brings people to the left. This attitude is the exact opposite of the ‘cancel culture’ arguments that are used to bludgeon progressives.

Unfortunately, changes of opinion can also go in the other direction and are especially malleable when there’s money to be made. Tulsi Gabbard, who became the one Democrat embraced by the so-called populists led by Donald Trump, seems to have made a cynical decision to leverage this popularity for profit.

Not only has the former congressperson signed a deal to do video commentary on the Toronto based far right Youtube imitator Rumble, she’s become a regular guest on Fox News.

In a March 15th appearance on Jesse Watters Primetime, Gabbard waded into the culture wars with a bizarre comparison between the speech protections offered to U.S. citizens by the 1st Amendment to the country’s constitution and those in force inRussia, which have been even more severely curtailed in recent weeks to try and squelch any protests to Vladimir Putin’s ruinous war in Ukraine. Protesters there expressing opposition to their president’s folly may face up to 15 years in prison for their dissent, a far cry from the online finger wagging the North American right calls ‘censorship’ and ‘cancel culture’. 

Addressing these issues, Gabbard opined to Watters, “This is what’s so dangerous about the place that we’re in right now as a country. Freedom of expression is directly under threat and under attack.”

She went on, “And you’re right. It’s not so different. What’s happening here is not that different from what we’re seeing happening in Russia, where you’ve got state TV and controlled messaging across the board. This is where we’re at.”

Shortly before this appearance, after tweeting about the issue, the former congressperson appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show expounding upon the possible risks represented by labs studying biological agents within Ukraine, some funded by the United States. This idea was soon expanded upon by online conspiracy theorists who now insist, echoing unproven and unlikely claims made by Vladimir Putin and his subordinates that the country has, with U.S. help, developed and might use actual biological weapons, despite being a signatory (along with Russia and every NATO country) to a treaty banning them.

“Like COVID, these pathogens know no borders,” Gabbard told the perpetually puzzled looking host, “If they are inadvertently or purposely breached or compromised, they will quickly spread all throughout Europe, the United States and the rest of the world, causing untold suffering and death.” 

One of the problems with Gabbard advancing this fear about unsecured biological agents is that it is clearly a Russian variation on the lies about WMDs in Iraq and she is giving credibility to and providing a gateway for other ‘thinkers’, most of them on the far right, who specificaly call these facilities biological weapons labs.

It seems that Gabbard’s transformation into a tool of the far right was complete at the recent CPAC conference in Florida where, speaking of the conflict in Ukraine she said, “This war and suffering could have easily been avoided if Biden Admiying, “Our freedom comes from God, not from any other person, not from anyone in government, our freedom comes from God and to recognize others as children of God is to appreciate that we belong to God and no one else.”

I am no expert on Hinduism, which is the religion Gabbard has claimed, but I have always viewed it as a religion with many gods rather than the singular one advanced by Judaism, Christianity and Islam that Gabbard seems to be referring to here. Maybe pandering to the crowd? Also, if god exists, if dedicated to it, wouldn’t they have brought ‘freedom’ to the masses sooner in human history (and extended it beyond mainly those of European descent much earlier)?

To be clear, despite calls for an investigation into Tulsi Gabbard’s ties to Russia by commentators on the popular daytime show, “The View”, which is not a place most people look to for subtle political commentary, I don’t believe Tulsi Gabbard is an asset to that country’s government. 7 She seems to care more about what those of us who spend far too much of our time watching Youtube and other streaming services call ‘clout’ than she does about political power, at least the constrained version that one has as a congressperson.

This focus seems to be paying off for her at present.

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