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The Audacity Of Chelsea Manning’s Senate Campaign Rankles Democrats

Chelsea Manning announced she will campaign for the Senate against Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin in the upcoming primary. A segment of the Democratic establishment reacted feverishly.

The former rapid response director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Zac Petkanas, declared, “Chelsea Manning could have leaked the info anywhere. She went to an arm of Russian intelligence bent [on] supplanting liberal democracy worldwide with right-wing authoritarianism.”

“She – and all unapologetic Russian assets (witting and unwitting) – don’t belong in the Senate,” Petkanas added.

When confronted about the fact that no one was alleging WikiLeaks had any connection to Russia in 2010, when Manning released documents to the media organization, Petkanas replied, “[First] public connection goes back to 2012 when Putin offered Assange a program on RT. Naive to think that’s where it began.”

“Witting or not, Manning has had lots of time to reflect on using what turns out to be [a] Russian vehicle. Senators must be vocal champions for liberal democracy.”

Petkanas is involved in leading the Democratic Party’s “war room” against President Donald Trump. Last December, he was one of the more prominent Democrats to delusionally call former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein a “Russian agent” after she was asked to provide the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence documents for its inquiry into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

If Petkanas seems unhinged, it is because he is upset at the audacity of Manning to run against Cardin, a well-respected senator among the establishment.

The Associated Press reported, “Political analysts say Manning’s high profile will prevent two-term Sen. Ben Cardin from essentially ignoring his primary challenger in the heavily Democratic state.”

As with Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Clinton, Democrats do not like that Manning may force them to expend money and resources to defend the Senate seat from a left-leaning insurgent campaign.

Democrats are not comfortable engaging with what may make Manning’s candidacy attractive to progressive voters so people like Petkanas resort to what any Democrat resorts to in order to marginalize voices on the left: tying them to Russia.

The fact that Manning is running for the Senate is enough to discourage Democrats from promoting a pernicious brand of identity politics that dominated the 2016 election.

Case in point: John Aravosis is a modestly influential gay writer with a sizable following who enjoys posing for pictures in “Trump-Putin 2016” t-shirts. He rejects the notion that Democrats should support Manning simply because she is a woman and transgender and her opponent is a white male.

Aravosis almost appears to argue that Sanders was a tool of the Russians and other agitators, who simply wanted Democrats to “hate each other.” Then, he adds, “The notion that we shouldn’t support Cardin simply because he’s white, a man, and ‘old’ is racist, sexist, and ageist. None of those are valid reasons, for someone on the left in particular, to oppose a candidate.”

He then proceeds to undermine identity politics by saying if Democrats are supposed to support Manning because she is transgender, then that suggests Democrats should support Paris Dennard, a black conservative commentator, Clarence Thomas, or “the late Phyllis Schlafly.” (For whatever reason, Aravosis couldn’t come up with the name of a living right-wing woman.)

“If Chelsea wants to run for the U.S. Senate as her first foray into politics, god bless her. But don’t expect us to endorse her candidacy simply because she’s LGBT,” Aravosis concludes. “Especially when her opponent, Cardin, has a 100% pro-LGBT rating from [Human Rights Campaign].”

Aravosis maintains Manning is not qualified to do the job and compares her to Trump, with the caveat that he does not think Manning is an idiot, which is kind of him.

The LGBT community played a key role in creating the caricature of Manning as a soldier whose sexual orientation and gender identity issues were an excuse to recklessly leak hundreds of thousands of documents containing classified information to WikiLeaks. But Manning never suggested that made the difference in her decision to reveal war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other corruption contained in the files. It was presented as mitigating evidence in the hopes that a military judge would show her mercy.

It was not until Manning came out as transgender that large sections of the establishment, which campaigned on LGBT issues, showed Manning any support. In fact, the San Francisco Pride Parade Board of Directors rejected an effort by supporters to make her grand marshal in order to appease military groups. Then-president Lisa Williams, who was involved in political consultant work for Democratic Party politicians, said honoring Manning would be an “insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military.”

Manning put the LGBT community in the position of having to confront their support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She exposed corruption among State Department diplomats. Altogether, people like Aravosis were placed in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge misconduct while President Barack Obama, a Democrat and ally, was in the White House.

Undoubtedly, the Democratic National Committee hopes Manning will be harshly treated as a pariah whose campaign gains little traction. Democratic strategist Basil Smikle said on CNN that Manning’s campaign had “some resonance” but did not think there would be a “tremendous amount quite frankly.”

If Manning’s campaign does gain traction, she will be regarded as ungrateful. One can imagine some political strategist saying, “How could she run against a Democratic senator when a Democratic president commuted her sentence and showed her mercy? That’s senseless.”

Manning will be repeatedly accused of dividing the Democratic base at a time when Democratic voters must unite against Trump. Her whistleblowing will be wildly misconstrued and twisted so Democrats can insert Russia and frighten the base.

It’s almost certain the fact that a large section of the population sees her as a “traitor” will play into the Democrats zealous efforts to suffocate her campaign, and one can definitely expect LGBT groups to fret over the fact that the first transgender senator could be someone convicted of a felony for violating the Espionage Act. They will side with centrist Democrats to stymie her challenge to Cardin.

Elected Democrats were unenthusiastic or livid about Obama commuting Manning’s sentence. Senator Robert Menendez reacted, “What message do we send for the next person who thinks that they can get a treasure trove of documents released, because something inspires them to do so, and the consequences that flow from that?”

Senator Joe Manchin said, “We’re going to give a green light to people basically with all the hacking going on now, and the cyber attacks we’ve got going on,” which was absurd given the fact that Manning never hacked into any systems.

The point is Manning embarrassed the Obama administration, and Democrats could never forgive her for exposing war crimes and corruption that embroiled officials in controversies between diplomats and leaders of several countries. They could not even be bothered to speak up for her when she was abused and cruelly mistreated at the Quantico Marine brig, even though State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley criticized what was happening. That animosity still persists among the ranks of Democrats.

Over and over again, Democratic voters will hear that Cardin, the incumbent, is good enough and that progressive groups rate him highly on several issues. His pro-Israel hawkishness and support for expanding government surveillance powers will be entirely ignored.

Except, Manning is running because status quo Democratic politics is far from good enough in challenging the forces that have been bolstered by Trump. The country needs voices willing to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and Cardin is not that kind of a voice.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."