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If writers ever have an ambitious aspiration, it’s to create influential new language: to create “memes” in the sense neo-Darwinian biologist Richard Dawkins did when he created the term “meme” itself. Such is my own aspiration in this article, which introduces the term “redwashing,” a potentially killer weapon for progressives in their life-or-death struggle against Hillary Clinton’s omnipresent propaganda machine.
What I mean by “redwashing” (modeled, of course, on “whitewashing” and “greenwashing”) is quite simple—but simple with a twist. While whitewashing and greenwashing involve putting a deceptively clean appearance on something dirty, “redwashing” is the opposite: it means flinging a slop bucket of unjustifiable abuse and denigration—a bucket brimming with dung and urine, bacteria and viruses—at real progressives. In other words, at the most enlightened political movement on the planet, people who, if Naomi Klein is to be believed, are literally the vanguard of humanity’s climate salvation. And if this piece has any lasting value beyond coining the meme “redwashing,” it will lie in alerting all fellow supporters of Klein’s climate justice vision that Hillary Clinton—and not Republicans—is by far our sneakiest, most dangerous enemy. For, as I’ll soon show, only Clinton’s supporters have a stake in destroying us through redwashing, which works its insidious harm by lumping real progressives—in effect, all climate-justice supporters—with Republicans.
Let me give an especially sleazy example of what I mean. Imagine my astonishment, as co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy and co-creator of its Bernie or Bust pledge—a pledge created to be even more radical than Bernie himself in pursuing his progressive revolution—to read (in a Facebook post by a certain Andrew Levin), “Did you know that #bernieorbust is a hashtag war on liberals waged by American Crossroads and America Rising PAC? NOW YOU DO.” And to compound his inexcusable sleaziness, Levin cites as “evidence” a New York Times article which, while plausibly relating to Levin’s basic theme, never mentions the Bernie or Bust pledge. So naturally, today’s lazy, impatient readers would assume that the New York Times, in its investigation of rightist attempts to bait leftists to turn against Hillary Clinton (as if her own corruption were insufficient; see here and here), had specifically cited the Bernie or Bust pledge as such an attempt.
Now, realizing progressives must be specially proactive in quashing such slimeball propaganda, I threatened to sue for libel, and Levin—after some very sniveling comments—removed his post. Not that I was naïve enough to think such a suit would be winnable; libel claims in political contexts (as Levin himself noted in a comment) are very hard to win. But rather, I wanted to attach to Levin’s name all the moral opprobrium that goes with libel, for libel is the precise moral term for Levin’s brand of sleaziness: he had told a lie in writing with intent to smear the reputation of the Bernie or Bust pledge and its creators. All of the key elements of the crime of libel are present, except the social context that makes for successful libel suits; political abuse and lying is legally allowed to get quite nasty. But morally, that Levin engaged in libel is established beyond dispute.
Now, certain people (probably not real progressives) may think that I’m being petty, that I should simply be a grownup and accept that this is how the political game is played. Well, on the one hand, I sense most people are quietly disgusted at U.S. politics becoming a limbo dance to see “how low we can go”; I sense this is above all true of Sanders supporters, since Bernie has resolutely determined to take the high road—perhaps to the extent of his being too soft in making legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, this is not merely about Levin; in Levin we simply see a microcosm of the libel—and its equally sleazy non-written cousin, slander—being leveled by Clinton supporters against legitimate progressive criticisms of Hillary. If this libel and slander weren’t omnipresent—and didn’t take the form of sleazily pretending all criticism of Clinton originates with “batshit crazy” Republicans—I would never have invented the blanket term “redwashing” for such libel and slander.
And in reality, the slander and libel are vastly more dangerous—and therefore vastly more reprehensible—than they initially seem. Why? Because of the critics they target: real progressives—who in practice amount to supporters of Naomi Klein’s climate-justice agenda and alone hold the key to humanity’s salvation from rapidly encroaching climate catastrophe. In other words, when the world needs progressive critics of Klein’s climate-justice stripe most—for our coordinated progressive agenda is essential to assuring the global peace and mass cooperation needed for addressing our planet’s climate emergency—the aim of redwashing is to marginalize us, to “disappear” us from mainstream public discourse—to the extent average voters don’t even know we exist. In the propaganda of redwashers, all critiques of Clinton come from Republicans; they are all Republican attempts to hoodwink “liberals.” In redwasher vocabulary, even the most fitting term for climate-justice activists—progressives—is eliminated from public discourse. Every sane person on the political left is a liberal—which essentially means someone who, like Hillary Clinton herself—has accepted Third Way Democrats’ devil’s bargain to abandon the New Deal and embrace both plutocrat money and identity politics. In redwasher propaganda, sane leftist critics of Hillary Clinton—the most important political thinkers and activists of our times—simply don’t exist: all criticism of Hillary must originate with Republicans.
Needless to say, the corporate conglomerates of mainstream media are quite comfortable with this redwashing agenda; it’s the chief reason they give so little coverage to Bernie Sanders. The comparatively extensive coverage of Donald Trump just reinforces the twofold lie of the redwasher narrative: (1) that Hillary Clinton is a legitimate alternative to the “batshit crazy,” fascist-veering right—and (2) that she is, in fact, the only one.
Clearly, Andrew Levin is far from being the only case of redwashing, or inventing a special term would have been unnecessary. In fact, progressive political activists who frequent social media are keenly aware of redwashing, even if they’ve until now lacked a single, damning word for the phenomenon. For with Bernie Sanders—like everyone left of Clinton—effectively “disappeared” from corporatist mainstream media, social media have become the main battlegrounds on which Sanders supporters and other progressives conduct our campaigns of public enlightenment. Far be it from an incurable war hawk like Hillary Clinton not to send heavily armed troops. And until now, their secret (because unnamed) weapon has been redwashing—treating all anti-Hillary critiques as coming from “red party” Republicans.
Like the lies of propaganda generally, the lies of redwashing soon stretch to absurd, utterly surrealistic proportions. To the extent that progressive criticisms of Clinton equally or even more damning to the Republican Party are said to originate with Republicans! Now inevitably, Clintonites will reply that Republicans are so afraid of facing Hillary in the 2016 general election that they’re willing to launch criticisms utterly damning to their own party. But again, like the typical lies of propaganda, this one holds very little water. Why would Republicans fear Hillary more than Bernie when (1) Bernie outpolls Hillary against front-running Republicans in recent polls, (2) Bernie carries far less scandalous political “baggage” than Hillary, and (3) Bernie’s vastly greater freedom from special-interest money leaves him vastly freer to launch criticisms of uniformly corrupt Republicans than Clinton?
Most of my social media activity being confined to Facebook, that the source from which I’ll quote my further, absurdist examples of redwashing. In fact, I’ll cite some fresh examples from yesterday—from the Hillary vs. Bernie Fight Club page that actually inspired the “redwashing” coinage. Now, I was accused of spouting “Republican talking points” (as well as the inevitable “Hillary bashing”) for citing (1) Hillary’s sitting by as hubby Bill carried out sanctions against Iraq that killed over 500,000 Iraqi children, (2) her support for Bush’s catastrophic Iraq War, (3) her push to globalize unsafe fracking while Secretary of State, (4) her master-minding Bush-style regime change in Libya, resulting in a failed state, (5) her lack of concern that Obama failed to prosecute the Bush war criminals, and (6) her utter lack of sympathy for the crucially important whistleblowing of Edward Snowden. Now, since Republicans were either responsible for the policies I criticized, or completely supported them, how in God’s name can anyone consider these policy critiques of Clinton, frequently cited by progressives, as “Republican talking points” or take the fact-based critique involved as “bashing”? Answer: only if you’re convinced that Clinton must be spared criticism—no matter how well documented—at any cost, and that no such criticisms could possibly come from rational progressives (the sort who embrace Naomi Klein’s climate-justice agenda) and therefore must come from Republicans. Even if it’s completely against Republicans’ self-interest to make those criticisms. Thus the sheer absurdity of redwashing for the sake of whitewashing Hillary Clinton.
T.S. Eliot’s poetic creation J. Alfred Prufrock felt himself exposed, in his life’s vapid meaninglessness, at the prospect of facing “eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase”—presumably the perfectly phrased, penetrating witticism that tells the home truth of an individual’s human failure. In “redwashing,” I sense I’ve coined the “formulated phrase”—in fact, the single damning word—that exposes the sheer sleaziness and absurdity of a dirty propaganda trick favored by Clinton’s supporters. I can only hope that damning word goes viral.