Noam Chomsky, Partisan Hack?

ChomskyChomsky, Wikimedia, 2013Noam Chomsky is in the news this week because of his latest interview with Al-Jazeera’s UpFront, which is set to air on Friday. But Chomsky, who is regarded by some as one of America’s foremost leftist intellectuals, isn’t discussing the “horrors” of U.S. foreign policy, as he normally might. This time, he’s advising that people vote Democratic in the upcoming presidential election, including even for that pillar of establishment politics, Hillary Clinton.

In the interview, Chomsky cites what he calls “enormous differences” between the two parties, especially on the issue of climate change. “I’ve always counseled strategic voting,” he says, “Meaning, in a swing state… if there’s a significant enough difference to matter, vote for the better candidate—or sometimes the least bad.” Republicans, who are either “climate change deniers or…skeptic[s] who [say] we can’t do it” pose a “serious danger to human survival,” Chomsky says. His solution? Vote Hillary!

But with this quasi-endorsement of Clinton—done largely, it seems, on the basis of the former secretary of state’s supposed inevitability and her stance on global warming—Chomsky could be vulnerable to the charge that he’s avoiding discussing his deepest priorities and convictions in order to legitimate maintaining his long-held contempt for the GOP.

Despite all his supposed radicalism, Chomsky’s preference in national elections hasn’t been for any candidate in particular, but rather, for a viable contender who isn’t a Republican. In an interview with The State Journal leading up to the 2012 election, Chomsky echoed his recent statements nearly verbatim when he said, “One has to pick the lesser of two evils, and there are substantial differences. If I were in a swing state, I’d vote against any Republican (hence necessarily for Obama).” In 2008, Chomsky said he “…would not suggest voting for McCain, which means voting for Obama,” and in the 2004 cycle, he endorsed a vote for Kerry while saying “Keeping the Bush circle out means holding one’s nose and voting for some Democrat.” There is, in Chomsky-land, a lesser of two evils even in a “one-party system,” and that lesser evil is by default the candidate who has a ‘-D’ next to their name on election day.

But in the context of the issues dominating the presidential race, there is one subject Chomsky has always spoken out on most fervently and frequently; it’s also the one that catapulted him from stuffy academic linguist to wildly famous public intellectual. It’s what he calls “American Imperialism”—otherwise known as U.S. foreign policy. His startling claims include that the U.S. is “the world’s biggest terrorist” and that the U.S., not Iran is the “gravest threat to world peace”—this, convincingly, on the basis of “global opinion surveys.” Chomsky, whose most popular books include Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance and Making the Future: The Unipolar Imperial Moment, has abruptly shifted his attention to global warming in this election cycle. That his views on foreign policy find better company amongst at least some Republicans, and not Clinton, might explain why.

Recently, Bill Maher suggested similarities between Chomsky’s and Trump’s political sensibilities in an interview with The Daily Beast, saying, “When Putin was praising Trump and Joe Scarborough said to him, “You know, Putin murders journalists,” Trump’s response was, “Yeah, we kill people, too.” That’s the kind of thing Noam Chomsky says, you know?”

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