The British surveillance agency GCHQ (more or less their version of the NSA) showed its liberal colors by literally lighting its exterior with rainbow colored lights. Glenn Greenwald is not pleased, GCHQ’s Rainbow Lights: Exploiting Social Issues for Militarism and Imperialism. He related this to a very general tactic that we’ve seen for decades of wars being sold as liberal causes. But of course, all that is really going on is that liberal excuses are being offered for conservative and nationalistic policies. This is how you get people like Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait to support a bloody good war: give them some (Any!) rationale for the war and they hop right on board.
I remember what is perhaps the best example of this. As we were set to go to war with Afghanistan, we were feed all this information about how terrible the Taliban were to women. This, of course, had the advantage of being true. But just like the old liberal cause for war — “Free people from oppressive regimes!” — this excuse had nothing to do with the reason that we were going to war. There are lots of regimes all over the world that treat women as bad or worse. But we weren’t invading them. (Also note: when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, it too brought equitable treatment of women — but that didn’t change our opinions of that war.)
I used to think about this a lot when I was a kid. We supposedly went to war in Vietnam to keep the country democratic and the people free. Yet we were just fine with Latin American despots like Augusto Pinochet. And as became very clear shortly after that time, democracy is not something we approve of if the people vote for governments we don’t like. You have to be pretty naive to think that we go to war for the benefit of the people we are bombing. It’s a pretty story, but it is almost never the case.
It should be seen as a good thing that now LGBT rights are mainstream enough that they are used by neocons to sell wars. But there is one thing that bothers me. Both LGBT and women’s rights are issues that are most effective to sell to the upper classes — Chris Hedges’ “liberal class.” The ultimate liberal cause would be the poor: that regime is harming the poor! But we don’t hear that. And I think we don’t hear that because no one cares what the working poor in this country think. For one thing, they are too busy surviving to pay much attention. The “liberal class” — like all classes — only care about themselves. The “liberal class” is filled with women and LGBT members. So let’s go to war anywhere because those kinds of people are being oppressed, am I right?!
This gets to one of the most depressing elements of politics in America. Over the last thirty years, “liberalism” has largely been cleaned of economics and foreign policy. The Democratic Party mostly stands for social issues. African Americans are largely as poor as they were fifty years ago, but at least they have the right to vote! Women may face systemic career discrimination, but at least they have the constitutional — but often not the practical — right to an abortion! LGBT members may not be able to afford a wedding, but they largely have the right to one! Modern liberalism sure is grand: if you are rich, it really does make you equal!
There seems to be a general political law here. If GCHQ or other odious government institutions are ostentatiously in support of certain kinds of rights, then those rights are no longer liberal. They are just mainstream. That’s especially true of LGBT rights. If you are against them, then you are a bigot. If you are for them, it doesn’t mean you a liberal — just that you are a human. Liberals need to be held to a higher standard than just figuring out an issue at the same time the average American does. (And yes: that was a reference to President Obama.)
 None of this is to say that any of these gains are unimportant. Most especially, the right to vote is very important. And African American show this by voting at high (for Americans) levels.