Glenn Greenwald: Life Beyond Borders


By Fred Bernstein

For the investigative journalist behind The Guardian's scoop on the Obama administration's abuse of the Surveillance Act, being a binational same-sex couple has affected life in more ways than one--starting with a move to Brazil.

The couple soon moved in together, adopted a series of stray dogs ("I'm almost a member of the pack of dogs," he says). To build a career from his new base in Brazil, Greenwald switched from law to journalism. (In 2007, his blog, called Unclaimed Territory, became part of Salon.) The "only gringo" in the Gávea neighborhood, Greenwald says he is now 100% fluent in Portuguese, and he has even begun making appearances on Brazilian TV. Miranda has learned English (and is now studying advertising and communications at the Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing), but even so, he says, there's no way he can read everything Greenwald produces. "Are you kidding?" Miranda asks. "He's a fucking machine."

Brazil, which was a military dictatorship until 1985 and has the largest Catholic population in the world, just approved same-sex marriage, and has long offered same-sex couples privileges that aren't available in the United States. That, Greenwald says, is a sign of how far the U.S. has fallen in its embrace of human rights. Greenwald occasionally writes about the unconstitutionality (not to mention inhumanity) of the Defense of Marriage Act, although not as often as some gay readers might like. But when he does take on the cause close to his heart, it isn't, he insists, special pleading. "Gay issues are about the same fundamental issues as other civil liberties questions -- the rights of the individual," he says. "If you think of gay issues as being discrete and separate, you're doing the cause a disservice."

In his early days as a blogger, Greenwald supported Democratic candidates who shared his pro-civil liberties views. But events in recent years -- in both the White House and Congress -- have changed his mind. "I just don't think meaningful change is possible through piecemeal reforms in either of the two political parties," he says. As for the Democrats themselves, he can barely contain his disgust. "The Republicans," he says, "have long lived by what they call the Buckley Rule: always support the furthest-right candidate who can plausibly win. That's because they believe conservatism will work and want to advocate for it. Democrats [by contrast] prop up the most centrist or conservative candidates -- i.e., corporatists -- on the ground that it's always better, more politically astute, to move to the right."

One of his hopes for 2012 is that candidates will emerge to take on the red and the blue teams -- he is keeping an eye on Gary Johnson, a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, who is pro-gay and antiwar, and who could run with a Democrat like former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold. He would also be happy to see a billionaire run without the help of either party, to disrupt the two-party stranglehold.

Greenwald believes the same manipulation of the two-party system is essential in the fight for gay rights. He says he is encouraged by the rise of the Log Cabin Republicans not because he likes a thing the GOP endorses, but because "it sends a signal to Democrats that they can't keep using gay voters as an ATM machine."

"I think gay voters have been too gullible," he says of their unwavering support for politicians who fail to keep promises. Being predictable, he says, offering advice to the gay community and an unwitting summary of his career, "is the best way to guarantee you're ignored."