Tulsi Gabbard is no front-runner and that’s OK – Ramos Review
Political analyst Dan Boylan recently penned a piece for MidWeek titled, “Tulsi’s Time Might Have Already Passed.”
Unlike previous U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, he writes, post-9/11 interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by volunteers, not draftees, and have resulted in far fewer American casualties. This, Boylan says, is why Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is struggling to gain traction for her presidential primary bid.
“As the cliché goes, ‘they knew what they’d signed up for.’ Maybe, maybe not. What’s clear is that at this moment Americans are not obsessed by the question of war or peace.”
Indeed, Gabbard is having a difficult time as a Democratic candidate. Her performance in Miami last month put Gabbard atop the ‘most Googled candidates’ list for a night, but over four weeks later her poll numbers have hardly budged.
Nevertheless, though it seems unlikely that Gabbard will ever be a front-runner, her presence on the debate stage should be appreciated by all Americans regardless of their preferred 2020 candidate. Why? Precisely because she’s sticking to the message that Boylan claims is falling flat.
Across the country, Gabbard repeats her criticism of the high “cost of war” — human and financial — saying that the United States must put an end to its ‘forever wars’ and instead focus on its own people. This, her most salient message, is helping Gabbard make inroads across party lines.
Yes, despite her stagnating support amongst Democrats, the four-term congresswoman seems to be finding common ground for both progressives and libertarians, conservatives and liberals to rally behind. That support may not translate into primary votes, but if Gabbard’s rhetoric is sincere, she ought to be happy that her message is catching on.
Just look at her media appearances. While some Democrats have shunned Fox News, save for a few townhalls watched by — let’s face it — likely Democratic voters, Gabbard has reached out to the conservative outlet’s regular viewership on numerous occasions, particularly through interviews with Tucker Carlson.
In one such interview following the first Democratic debate, Carlson played a clip for Gabbard of her on-stage exchange with Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who said we must stay “engaged” in Afghanistan.
Gabbard said to Carlson, “We hear a lot of politicians say this same argument, that well, we’ve got to stay engaged in the world, otherwise we’ll be isolationists — as though the only way the United States can engage with other countries is by blowing them up or strangling them with economic sanctions; by smashing them and trying to overthrow their governments.”
“How about the United States be a leader in the world?” Gabbard asked. “Work out differences and build relationships with negotiations and diplomacy … [find] common interests and [see] how we can work together so that we can stop sending our men and women in uniform into harm’s way — serving in missions that do not serve the interests of the American people, that make our country less safe, and actually end up causing more harm and more damage to the people in the countries where we wage these wasteful regime-change wars.”
This is the message of peace we need today, whether it’s from a presidential front-runner or from a struggling candidate like Gabbard. War hawks who supported invading Iraq 16 years ago have yet to learn their lesson, and so I repeat, Tulsi Gabbard is no front-runner and that’s OK.
For her supporters in Hawaii, it means Gabbard will boost her national name recognition and expand her donor base — promising, perhaps, for more elections in the future. She’ll also be able to maintain her brand as a less-than-liberal Democrat capable of bipartisan cooperation.
For Gabbard’s home state detractors, it means her past transgressions will remain fair game and she’ll be open to criticism for her failure to join the ‘top tier’ of candidates. It will also be more than fair to ask why Gabbard has done so poorly on the campaign trail despite missing plenty of House votes to be there.
Furthermore, Gabbard’s handling of issues at home suggests she may not be ready for more scrutiny, let alone the presidency. During her last re-election campaign, Gabbard was accused of dodging debates and denying her opponent a chance to challenge her in front of voters.
More recently, some constituents have questioned why the congresswoman was quick to join indigenous people at Standing Rock but waffled on the decision to do the same in her own congressional district, where hundreds of Hawaiians have gathered to stop construction on Mauna Kea. She finally weighed in by video several days into high profile protests with a call to delay the project. Reception of this move by supporters and critics alike further suggests that Gabbard’s primary struggles may be a blessing.
Most importantly, Gabbard’s foundering suggests that she’ll continue sharing her anti-war message without supplanting the only front-runner with a similarly vocal stance on war, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Unlike former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, the only other fiercely anti-war candidate, Gabbard is very close to qualifying for the third Democratic debate and will remain on stage for the foreseeable future.
Front-runner or not, Gabbard will continue speaking out against harmful interventionism and counterproductive regime-change wars, and for that we should all be grateful.
Dylan Ramos is a senior at Loyola Marymount University studying political science, history, and international relations. His writing has been published in Honolulu Civil Beat, Asia Media International, and elsewhere.