You’ve already been introduced to Tulsi Gabbard and you now know something of her background and who she is as a person.
Now it’s time to find out who she is as a politician.
I am not a big fan of the mainstream media. I consider that the pressures of running a large successful business oftentimes dictates or, at the very least, influences editorial policy to the extent that clear biases emerge to steer a story in a particular direction. And this is not surprising. If you are really honest, you will acknowledge that no news reportage is absolutely objective. It just cannot be and it will never be. It is up to the reader to select across the wide range of available news to get a clear and full picture of what is going on in the world.
That said, it was interesting to find two, inter-related articles that appeared in two “well respected” newspapers. The articles were published in late 2015 and they dealt with some issues concerning the Democratic Party in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. One article was published in The Washington Post and the other in The New York Times.
Ahem, ahem, cough, cough!
It occurs to me that these stories provide an excellent introduction of how Ms. Gabbard is going about conducting her political career.
I will only use extracts from the two stories since I do not wish to get bogged down in the details of the issue in question. Rather, I want to focus on the substance that concerns Tulsi Gabbard and her political actions.
The Washington Post kicked off with a very bold headline that implied a hidden challenge:
“…..All this week, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has been in a nasty back and forth with the Democratic National Committee where she serves as vice chairwoman about whether its chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), suggested Gabbard shouldn’t go to Tuesday’s Las Vegas debate. The she-said, she-said came shortly after Gabbard suggested on MSNBC that the DNC should host more than the current six debates (many have accused the DNC of holding fewer debates to help Hillary Clinton). DNC officials told the the New York Times, which broke the story, that Gabbard’s debate drama would have been a “distraction” from the candidates on stage.”
So what did The New York Times report:
“D.N.C. Officer Says She Was Disinvited From Debate After Calling for More of Them (by Maggie Haberman – 12 October 2015)
Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said she was disinvited from the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Nevada after she appeared on television and called for more face-offs.
Ms. Gabbard confirmed on Sunday that her chief of staff received a message last Tuesday from the chief of staff to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the national committee, about her attendance at the debate. A day earlier, Ms. Gabbard had appeared on MSNBC and said there should be an increase beyond the current six sanctioned debates.
A person close to the committee who asked for anonymity to discuss internal discussions insisted, however, that Ms. Gabbard had not been disinvited. Instead, the person said, an aide to Ms. Wasserman Schultz expressed a desire to keep the focus on the candidates as the debate approached, rather than on a “distraction” that could divide the party, and suggested that if Ms. Gabbard could not do that, she should reconsider going.
Ms. Gabbard insisted otherwise.
“When I first came to Washington, one of the things that I was disappointed about was there’s a lot of immaturity and petty gamesmanship that goes on, and it kind of reminds me of how high school teenagers act,” Ms. Gabbard said in a telephone interview on Sunday night. She said she would watch the debate in her district in Hawaii, which elected her to her second term last year.
“It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them,” she added. “When I signed up to be vice chair of the D.N.C., no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door.”
Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for the committee, said the desire was to allow the Democrats to present a clear contrast with the Republicans.
“The focus of the debate in Nevada as well as the other debates and forums in the coming weeks should be on the candidates who will take the stage, and their vision to move America forward,” she said. “All that was asked of Ms. Gabbard’s staff was to prioritize our candidates and this important opportunity they have to introduce themselves to the American people. The Democratic Party is a big-tent party, and we embrace the diversity of opinions and ideas that come from our members.”
Ms. Gabbard and R.T. Rybak, a committee vice chairman and a former mayor of Minneapolis, have for weeks publicly called for more debates.
“More and more people on the ground from states all across the country are calling for more debates, are wanting to have this transparency and greater engagement in our democratic process at a critical time, as they make the decision of who should be the next person to lead our country,” Ms. Gabbard said in her MSNBC appearance.
…..The person close to the committee insisted: “She was not uninvited. The D.N.C. team wanted this first debate to have all the focus on the candidates. Gabbard’s people were told that if they couldn’t commit to that, since Tulsi was trying to publicly divide the D.N.C. leadership last week, then they should consider not coming.”
The person added, “The fact that she is still making this about her and not our great candidates by talking to The New York Times says something unfortunate.”
Ms. Gabbard said the only issue raised had been “the fact that I had publicly disagreed” with Ms. Wasserman Schultz.
“This isn’t about any one person,” Ms. Gabbard said. “It’s about how the Democratic Party should be representing democratic values, allowing for free speech and open debate within our party, and for more transparency and debates for our presidential candidates.”
“All of our candidates agree with my position,” she added.
Former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who has been struggling to gain traction in the Democratic primary contest, has been calling for more debates and has accused Ms. Wasserman Schultz of trying to benefit the leader in the polls, Hillary Rodham Clinton, by limiting debates. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has also called for more debates, although he has not been as adamant as Mr. O’Malley has.”
On the face of it, this all seems like a silly little spat between some politicians seeking a bit of lime-light.
But is it really?
The Washington Post goes a little deeper behind the story:
“…..But if you thought this was an isolated incident, you haven’t been paying attention to Tulsi Gabbard. In fact, this week’s drama has plenty to do with the party’s young, outspoken star’s demonstrated willingness to speak out in ways her party would rather she not. Gabbard is a wildcard who has given Democrats as many headaches in her nearly three years in Congress as she has blessings.
Gabbard’s resume is a political operative’s dream. She is the first American Samoan elected to Congress. She was the first elected Hindu (she took her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita) and one of two female combat veterans to join Congress in 2013. Oh, and the then-31-year old was also the youngest woman in Congress at the time.
…..Back home in her Democratic-heavy, rural Oahu district, Gabbard is clearly in command of her political future. She won re-election to a second term with close to 79 percent of the vote.
…..In Washington, Democrats no doubt noticed how great Gabbard looks on paper and on television. She was elevated quickly to top jobs like vice chair of the DNC and to important committee assignments that fit with her military experience.
…..House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Vogue that Gabbard is “an emerging star” and invited the then-congressional candidate to speak at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. “Some fresh recruits stay and some go,” Pelosi said. “It’s hard to tell what route she’ll choose.”
So far, Gabbard is choosing her own route, and it’s not one Democrats hoping to groom her for leadership would have her take. Especially with regard to foreign policy, Gabbard often sounds more like a hawkish Republican than a potential future Democratic leader. She has blasted President Obama for failing to talk about Islamic extremism.
…..What’s more, Gabbard has been glorified in the conservative media. Her criticism of Obama’s failure to cite “Islamic extremism” earned her appearances on Fox News, and in April, the conservative National Review wrote a glowing profile about the “beautiful, tough young” Democrat “who’s challenging Obama’s foreign policy”.
This shouldn’t be a complete surprise though. Gabbard’s political background is non-traditional. Her conservative Democratic state senator father led the charge in Hawaii against same-sex marriage. Gabbard said she generally aligned with social conservatism until she deployed twice to Iraq with the Hawaii Army National Guard. In 2012, she described what Honolulu Civil Beat called her “leftward journey” to the paper:
“Some of these experiences living and working in oppressive countries, not only witnessing firsthand but actually experiencing myself what happens when a government basically attempts to act as a moral arbiter.”
Gabbard seems happy to soak up the spotlight from both sides, but it’s gotten her in trouble at least once. During the 2014 August recess, she went “extreme surfing” with Yahoo’s Chris Moody and sent out the clip as a fundraiser.
…..And that’s Gabbard in a nutshell. She’s shown that she’s not likely to back down from a fight, even when it’s with a party that would very much like to promote her.
Democrats no doubt appreciate the diversity and charisma that their newest recruit brings, but lately it has come with a price. The question now for party leaders is how they handle a young, rising star who is as much a wildcard as just about anybody in their party.”
So what did the National Review have to say about Ms. Gabbard?
by Brendan Bordelon & Eliana Johnson (2 April 2015)
She’s young, she’s hip, and she’s beautiful. She’s also a combat veteran and a Democrat who has made headlines for slamming the Obama administration’s rudderless foreign policy. Tulsi Gabbard may be a Democrat, but the 33-year-old congresswoman from Hawaii has endeared herself to right-wing hawks by showing a willingness to buck the president, and her party, on foreign affairs. “I like her thinking a lot,” American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks tells National Review in an e-mail. Brooks describes Gabbard as “smart and reasonable,” as well as “pragmatically strong on defense.”
“She could be a very powerful new voice on the D side,” he says.
It’s not often, especially in the Age of Obama, that you hear prominent Republicans lavish praise on up-and-coming Democrats. But Gabbard’s public condemnation of the president’s national-security strategy is turning heads and winning her rave reviews from across the aisle. With the U.S. on the precipice of a deal with Iran, Gabbard’s embrace of American exceptionalism, combined with her exotic background — she was born in American Samoa, and she is Hindu — seems to offer the Democratic party a different way forward. It harkens back to the Truman era, and it’s attractive to many Republicans, particularly those who care about foreign affairs and are seeking to renew a bipartisan consensus on national security.
“I think she’s a responsible American congresswoman who served in the military and looks at the situation as she sees it,” says Danielle Pletka, AEI’s vice president for foreign policy and defense. “She doesn’t see everything through a political prism and is thoughtful and serious,” Pletka says. “I admire her.”
Since taking office in January 2013, Gabbard has cultivated relationships with conservative national-security and defense experts, particularly those from AEI, an institution known for churning out research advocating a muscular foreign policy. She was one of just three Democrats to land an invitation to AEI’s exclusive annual retreat in Sea Island, Ga., earlier this month — New Jersey senator Cory Booker and Maryland congressman John Delaney were also invited – and she’s befriended and impressed AEI’s foreign-policy wonks.
At the suggestion of Michael Auslin, an Asia expert at AEI, Gabbard was invited to the Halifax International Security Forum last November. When Auslin first met Gabbard in 2013, he says, he was struck by her “very developed sense of American national interests.”
“She wasn’t hemming or hawing or wishfully thinking about what North Korea might or might not do, or what China might or might not do,” Auslin says. “She’s not dogmatic.”
Though not the only Democrat to voice anxiety over the White House’s national-security priorities, Gabbard is perhaps the most conspicuous. Her Republican fans describe her as a conventional liberal where domestic politics are concerned, but the twice-deployed Iraq War veteran is one of the most hawkish Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee.
When the president held his “Combating Violent Extremism” summit in February, conservatives and Republicans gnashed their teeth over his refusal to label such groups as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda “Islamic.” Gabbard leapt into the fray.
“Unless you accurately identify who your enemy is, then you can’t come up with an effective strategy, a winning strategy to defeat that enemy,” she told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on February 18. “You’re not identifying the fact that they are not fueled by a materialistic motivation, it’s actually a theological — this radical Islamic ideology that is allowing them to continue to recruit, that is allowing them to continue to grow in strength and that’s really fueling these horrific terrorist activities around the world.”
Gabbard’s gripes about the administration’s foreign policy go beyond semantics. She has consistently challenged what she considers the White House’s failed strategy for combating ISIS and stabilizing Iraq. As recently as two weeks ago, in an appearance on Face the Nation, she criticized the “failed” American policy of “propping up this Shia-led government in Baghdad that’s heavily influenced by Iran, [which] has caused, essentially, . . . ISIS to grow in Iraq.” She flatly accused the Obama administration of having “no clear plan in place for the Sunni people to take charge of the Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, which is the only thing that will prevent ISIS from coming back in, even if there is a military victory.”
She’s also taken the administration to task over its recent rapprochement with Iran, lamenting the “confusion” in U.S. policy during another interview with Cavuto on March 24. “We have the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, omitting Iran and Hezbollah from the list of threats to our country for the first time in a long time,” she said, noting that the Islamic theocracy is meanwhile building an empire in the region. “There seems to really be a lack of a coherent strategy with regards to how we, as the United States, are dealing with Iran, as we look at this threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,” she said.
Not all conservatives are as smitten with Gabbard as those who roam the hallways at AEI. James Jay Carafano, a national-security expert at the Heritage Foundation, says all the exuberance is unwarranted, and that Gabbard has attracted outsized attention and gotten a media platform because she is an Iraq War veteran who has bucked a Democratic president. “I wouldn’t put too much stock in this,” he says. Whether her background indicates she’s a “national-security leader that fits into the kind of traditional mold,” he says, is “very different than a couple of press quotes.”
And, impressed as she is with Gabbard, Pletka doesn’t view her a singular figure. “I think it’s hugely unfair to single her out as somebody who’s been a particularly vocal critic of the administration because she’s a woman, because she’s from Hawaii,” she says. “She may be a thought leader, but she’s certainly not alone in the Democratic party.”
Gabbard is canny, which means she’s also cautious about her association with conservative hawks. Auslin says she considered writing an article with him last fall on the security situation in Asia, but the idea was not high on her list of priorities with a reelection campaign looming, and it fell by the wayside (“Does she really want to be writing a piece with an AEI guy right before her first [re]election?” he says). And her office did not respond to repeated interview requests. “You guys’ profiling her is going to be like the kiss of death,” Auslin says with a laugh.
A lot of people hope that’s not the case. Auslin, for one, sees a Senate bid as a “natural” progression for Gabbard’s career. If so, she’s setting herself up to direct the Democratic party away from the path trod by the last young politician with Hawaiian origins, a funny name, and uniquely American ambitions.
And, according to her fans, she is not alone, even if she’s getting the most attention right now. Auslin says the pushback within the Democratic party against the Obama administration’s foreign policy is building, particularly among Gabbard’s generation. “I’ll admit, I see a lot of young Democrats like her”, he says. “Not everyone has taken the stand that she has. Not everyone has approached it from that sort of statesmanlike level. But I think it’s something that, particularly as conservatives, we shouldn’t ignore.”
Now that was back in 2015 and nothing’s changed. Tulsi’s light is still shining and it’s brighter than ever.