Tulsi Gabbard’s Presidential Candidacy Exposes Huge Democratic Party Rifts

Tulsi Gabbard’s Presidential Candidacy Exposes Huge Democratic Party Rifts

A 2020 presidential run by this foreign policy realist and socially-not-too-liberal combat veteran would definitely shake things up.
Sumantra Maitra
By

Tulsi Gabbard is an odd Democrat candidate to run for president, and that is perhaps the understatement of the century, even for someone writing from Britain. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an Indian nationalist, visited the United States after his election, Gabbard was one of the few to personally meet him, and reportedly gift her personal copy of “Bhagavad Gita,” the Hindu sacred text, famous in the East as a war sermon and philosophy of destiny, famous in the West for being notably quoted by Robert Oppenheimer after the first atomic test.

Indian diplomats were mildly bemused, but Gabbard has always maintained that India is a vital partnership, regardless of who’s ruling the country, because the twin domestic and foreign threats facing the United States include radical Islam and a militaristic China, and New Delhi has experience dealing with both for far longer than Washington. She was vocal in opposing House Resolution 417, which was about to condemn India’s religious record in a tone similar to UN critiquing Israel.

In her statement she said, “Throughout history, India as a nation has been home to many religions, and has protected many as well, including Tibetan Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” not unlike how Israel is the only multi-ethnic democratic country in the entire Middle East surrounded by mono-ethnic and often fundamentalist Islamic nations. This was not well received in her Democratic Party.

This non-traditional position makes her a paradox to the left, since on political issues, Gabbard is hardly an inch right of Leon Trotsky, Venezuelan socialist Nicolas Maduro, and newly instated Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Gabbard was a prominent Bernie Sanders backer who went on to diss Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for rigging the primary, when no one was daring to do that, earning her the wrath of liberal media.

She supports Medicare for All, wants to legalize marijuana, favors a non-interventionist foreign policy, and would like urgent state intervention in opioid treatment, as well as clean environment legislation. She’s a minority, half Caucasian and half American Samoan. She’s a practicing Hindu, like her mainlander mother, and a member of the semi-pacifist Vaishnavas, an esoteric sect that has more in common with Buddhism than hardcore Hinduism in practice.

She’s also a military veteran, with actual combat deployment to Iraq, something not many Democratic candidates can boast of. Her non-interventionism, one can argue, comes from experience, rather than from the desks of people sitting in think tanks in New York or DC. Temperamentally, she’s a secular but socially conservative Democrat, in the tone of Jim Webb, Samuel Huntington, and Arthur M. Schlesinger––increasingly a rarity in the left.

Tulsi’s Two Political Taboos

But she carries two political taboos that make her a pariah among the intersectional left. Her overt and belligerent opposition to Islamism and Islamic radicalism has gotten her powerful enemies in her own party, which is increasingly seeing a bizarre morphing between left-feminist and Islamist factions. Consider her meeting with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, in a fact-finding mission no normal political operative would advise to someone who harbors even a remote hope of running for the presidency of the United States.

In a terrible, tone-deaf choice, Gabbard went to Syria, and then met Assad, as she wanted to stall off another reckless intervention in the Middle East. Even though her exact words were “there’s no doubt Assad is a brutal dictator,” it’s hard to tell why she thought it politically prudent to meet with the authority in a region that is essentially tribal and feudal in nature. She was butchered by both liberal interventionists and Islamist interventionists opposed to any secular dictator in the Middle East.

This particular episode made a wound that would be hard for her to heal during the savage primaries unless she goes on offense first. Interestingly, though, for all the accusations from the left that she’s a closeted right-winger, she recently tweeted to President Trump about cutting Saudi Arabia off, thereby showing at least that she is consistent in her position. She previously blasted President Obama in a similar fashion and introduced a bill called Stop Arming Terrorists Act.

Her social conservatism is also raising questions in the predictable circles. Recently, she wrote a scathing op-ed against her own state senator for being discriminatory and judgmental about Catholics in public service. In a time when the left is increasingly opposed to not just Christianity in the public offices but also practicing Christians, her raking fire against the annoyingly grandstanding senators of her own party caused shockwaves.

In an op-ed, perhaps preparing for her presidential run and hinting at senators Mazie Hirono, Dianne Feinstein, and Kamala Harris, she wrote:

While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. If Buescher is ‘unqualified’ because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’ Ted Kennedy would have been ‘unqualified’ for the same reasons. Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that there ‘shall be no religious test’ for any seeking to serve in public office.

No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because ‘the dogma lives loudly within you’ as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit.

An unthinkable view, to say the least, in the party dominated by Kirsten Gillibrand, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.

American Democrats Are Following British Labour

The reality is this: American Democrats are increasingly looking like the British Labour Party under socialist Jeremy Corbyn, with a heady mix of urban liberal-intersectional-minority candidates on one hand, and raging socialists on the other. Just as the Labour Party changed in the last few years, there are signs of growing anti-Semitism on the American left, as well as religious intolerance, while increasing support for foreign interventions and hawkish foreign policy, due to a late influx of neoconservatives like Max Boot and Bill Kristol.

That is, of course, unsustainable in the long term, but Gabbard is an outlier in all of those categories. She’s from a minority background, but not the “standard showcase” minority. She’s hard left, but also socially conservative, and she’s not insane with her Russia conspiracy theories. For some reason, she’s almost Metternichian in her amoral foreign policy realpolitik, which is unthinkable among naïve and idealistic left-wingers.

While Gabbard might not win the presidency, all she has to do is go on the offense from the very start and hammer out her two fundamental policy positions for the public to decide––her foreign policy non-interventionism and heartland conservative Democratic social positions. She might just disrupt the script if nothing else. Whatever the case, it would be anything but boringly predictable and tokenistic, as the majority of the Western left has come to symbolize recently.

And boy, wouldn’t that be a show for centuries?

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.

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