Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, complete with lei, took the stage at SXSW in Austin to do her first town hall as a presidential candidate Sunday night on CNN. The 37-year-old Iraq War veteran is running for president and would be the youngest, first woman, and first Hindu president in our nation’s history. Many pundits have placed Gabbard in the center or even right of the Democratic Party. If so, the center or right of the Democratic Party is pretty leftist.
Her first question was about American intervention in the rest of the world, and how she could be against American wars while having served in the military. Gabbard voiced her concern that “regime change” wars just make things worse, not only for American soldiers, but for those we are purporting to protect in foreign countries. She seemed skeptical that America can successfully interfere in the crisis in Venezuela and committed to end our wars and nuclear proliferation.
Some tough questioning came Gabbard’s way regarding Syria and her meeting with Syrian president and alleged war criminal Bashar al-Assad. She would not say that Assad is a war criminal, but said that we need to investigate the charges. This answer will not put to bed her strange defiance on an issue most Democrats and Republicans alike see as settled science.
Asked about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitic remarks, Gabbard said that as a Hindu she has been on the receiving end of attacks regarding her alleged dual loyalty. She would not call Omar’s rhetoric anti-Semitic but rather said that Omar is bringing up a deeper issue regarding Israel and Omar did not intend to be anti-Semitic. Whether Omar was being anti-Semitic, intentionally or otherwise, the congresswoman did not venture an opinion on.
Gabbard is widely viewed as a centrist Democrat, yet expressed her support for “Medicare for all.” It is telling and important to see that even the center of the Democratic Party is abandoning Obamacare. It suggests that maybe, as conservatives always thought, the Affordable Care Act was really a first act to a play that ends in socialized health care. She would not go so far as to say that private insurance should be eliminated. But it was not clear what role she thinks private insurance might play.
Asked if Democrats are becoming socialists, Gabbard says we should not fall into the labels trap. She says that people (it’s unclear who) are trying to divide us with these labels. It’s an odd claim given that many Democrats call themselves socialist. This is an interesting clue as to how centrist Democrats will defend socialism. Asked if she defends capitalism, she refused to do so.
The question of Gabbard’s religion, an offshoot of Hara Krishna, came up and was a bit uncomfortable. It was completely unclear why her religion would have anything to do with how she might govern as president, but nonetheless, these days, this “identity” of hers is apparently important. It is not clear why.
Arguably Gabbard’s biggest problem with the modern left is her previous positions on gay marriage and so-called conversion therapy. She denies having ever known what conversion therapy even was until a few years ago. Her opposition to gay marriage was a result of her father’s Catholicism, but like Obama, who once opposed gay marriage based on his Christian beliefs, Gabbard has evolved, having served in the military with gay soldiers.
On climate change, Gabbard brought it close to home, since Hawaii is an island that she suggests is at risk. “Homes and roads are being eroded” in Hawaii, she argued. Gabbard argued that the influence of corporations and lobbyists is keeping America from addressing climate change. But she made the point that the United States alone cannot change the rate of climate change. How we are supposed to influence the rest of the world to assist us she did not make clear.
Gabbard says that we are at the greatest risk of nuclear catastrophe in our history. It’s an odd claim given the history of the Cold War, during which a Soviet premiere promised to bury us. She brought up the false report of a nuclear attack on Hawaii last year. Apparently people feared that they only had minutes to live. This was clearly a scary thing, but a mistake, not an actual nuclear attack. It is not clear who Gabbard is concerned will be sending nuclear weapons our way.
On the question of legalizing drugs — not just marijuana, but all drugs — Gabbard demurred a bit. She told stories of meeting addicted Americans whose lives had been destroyed. She wants to address root causes, and end the war on drugs. She supports legalizing weed, but refused to address which, if any, other drugs she would legalize.
On the whole, those who thought of Gabbard as an antidote to the overly progressive Democratic candidates already populating the field were sure to be disappointed. And Gabbard should probably be disappointed too. Given the chance to distance herself from the other candidates who have expressed progressive policies falling to left of whoopee, she failed to do so.
Why her candidacy is needed was left entirely unclear. If there is going to be a moderate Democratic candidate in the 2020 primary, Tulsi Gabbard made pretty clear that night that she isn’t it.