Here is what happens when political reporters hang out with Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind and everyone is drunk.
Our group consisted of journalists from The Washington Post, Mother Jones magazine, The Daily Beast, Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, CNN, and Fox News, because Washington, D.C., is a casually incestuous, ideologically promiscuous hellscape.
The band was throwing their album-release party for their latest LP, Dopamine, at the D.C. bar Black Whiskey. We were there for the bar food and the hard liquor after a long day of giving Donald Trump attention.
The band you loved in the ’90s now consists of just one original member, Jenkins, in part because of internal disputes.
We circled Jenkins, talking and debating American politics. Aware that the 50-year-old singer/songwriter hadn’t at any point in the evening uttered the phrase “off the record,” CNN political reporter Chris Moody was part of our crew and later decided to tweet out choice quotes such as, “We need to be like ‘Fuck you, ISIS.’ We will send over girls’ schools,” and, “I’m going to run for president this year as a Republican. I will get on the stage before Bobby Jindal will.” (Jenkins clarifies that he was being sarcastic for that last one; he will not be forming an exploratory committee.)
But it was the following tweet—about how he “fucking hate[s] libertarians”—that gave Jenkins headaches the next day:
Subsequently, libertarians and conservatives started angry-tweeting him, labeling him a know-nothing left-winger and informing him that his albums suck. (This all got Twitchy-ed, naturally.) So, his Wednesday was “ruined” because he felt remorseful for engaging in the sort of name-calling that he says too often debases our political culture. He also claims to have been joking around a few drinks in, and that he does not really “fucking hate” libertarian activists.”
In fact, the Third Eye Blind singer is quite the politics nerd—and a flaming liberal. He told The Daily Beast, in the more sober light of day, that he even wants to make time for political blogging and penning op-eds. He just needs to find a publication willing to accept his pitches.
“I grew up on politics,” he says. “It’s kinda how I communicated with my father as a kid, he was a poli sci professor. Some people talk baseball; we talked politics.”
Of course, as any Third Eye Blind megafan knows, the band is not known for being political like, say, Tom Morello or Eddie Vedder. None of Third Eye Blind’s hits from the ’90s—“How’s It Going to Be,” (about loss), “Semi-Charmed Life” (a meth addict), or “Jumper,” (a suicidal gay friend) for example—are politically charged. (Third Eye Blind does have a lesser-known song about Occupy Wall Street, however)
On reflecting on his own discography, Jenkins says that his lyrics reflect “some kind of formation of identity in the context of culture” that is often inherently political. “Like, ‘Jumper,’ that’s about a kid jumping off a bridge because he’s gay,” Jenkins says. “That was from 1998…There are cultural aspects to that, but now we’ve come to a point where we have a much greater culture of acceptance, and one that really points out bullying. And we’re really moving towards a post-bullying, post-shaming society…And Republicans, at large, are moving that way, too, it’s just the Republican Party that’s not. As is, the Republican Party follows the narrowest, most base instincts of its base, as well as just being agents of corporate interests.”
Jenkins continued on the subject of Republicans. He despised the policies of the last Bush administration (of course), and hasn’t found much love for the GOP in the years since. For instance, he calls Senator Tom Cotton’s Iran letter a “level of obstructionism that’s unprecedented since the Civil Fucking War.”
“The Republican Party as a whole, if you just walk down the list, they’re just terrible,” Jenkins opines. “Jeb Bush could not answer the questions on Iraq. I think his first answer, [that he would have invaded], seemed to be his most honest…He then hired people like [Paul] Wolfowitz, who are neocon architects of what is totally and clearly understood to be a disaster in American foreign policy.”
But Jenkins’s big issue is climate change—and the Republican Party’s position on this pisses him off as much as you’d expect.
“Marco Rubio does not know what he’s talking about; he’s not an informed individual,” he says. “He doesn’t understand global warming, and it’s happening in his own state…It just invalidates [Republicans] as people who can be leaders of the free world. Because it is going to be leaders of the free world who actually get together and combat climate change. They won’t even support cap and trade, which is a Republican idea, because they get their money from Exxon, BP, and the Koch brothers.”
As for the current state of the Democratic Party, Jenkins has, at the very least, a backhanded compliment for them. “I think that the Democrats are, for the most part, a functional party,” he assesses. “I have caveats. I mean, Hillary Clinton was certainly for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but now she’s not saying so.”
In spite of the aforementioned trade kerfuffle, Jenkins is an admirer of President Obama, and believes he will go down in history as a great leader. However, he’d exercise a slightly different foreign policy—one of his major criticisms of Obama centers on the president’s reluctance to launch airstrikes on the Assad regime after the chemical weapons attack in late 2013.
“One thing I really disagreed with was when Assad used chemical weapons in Syria, Obama said that was a red line,” Jenkins says. “As a policy, using weapons of mass destruction and acts of genocide should be met with violence. And that should be a clear policy of the United States: ‘If you use weapons of mass destruction or genocide, then we’ll kill you.’”
Tough talk aside, the Third Eye Blind frontman is not a hawk. During his conversation with The Daily Beast, he issued what could reasonably be called the Jenkins Doctrine:
“This whole concept of [terrorists] hating us for our freedom is sketchy…More likely the issue is we’re seen as invaders—that we’re seen as meddlers. Probably in a lot of ways, we’re scapegoats for people who are in disgruntled petro-economies. Ronald Reagan, when the barracks were attacked [in Beirut], he said, ‘This is terrible, let’s get out of there.’ In a lot of ways, that’s a really good idea. Because what’s happening…is there’s a civil war going on between Sunni and Shia. These aren’t countries. Iraq is not a country, they don’t have an identity. And they’re in a fight with each other. And it’s one that we probably unloaded and caused, but it’s not one that we fixed. And the real retort to this kind of violence should have been, ‘We’re getting out of the region.’ We are going to stop this reliance on oil from countries that are totally anathema to our beliefs. Like Saudi Arabia. Let’s not be there. This ongoing dispute is not one that we can solve. We cannot solve it militarily, and we’ve tried!
One of my foreign policy issues with President Obama…is that he worked into that idea that we can go in and nation-build for people who don’t see nations in the same way that we do. We’re not gonna change the tribalism, we’re not gonna change the things they believe. And I’ve talked to lots of troops who have served in Afghanistan, lots of Marines. And they’ve all said the same thing to me: We’re not having the effect we want, we’re not changing this, we’re not going to impose this neocon concept of the world.”
Jenkins went on to clarify that though he sees ISIS as “assholes” that he would “love to see all ground into paste,” his position is that American boots on the ground would just “create more ISIS.” However, when asked about whether his relative dovishness (which clashes somewhat with his desire to bomb Assad and other perpetrators of mass slaughter) means that he wishes for an end to U.S. drone warfare and anti-ISIS bombing campaign, he conceded that he did not know enough about the issue to comment on Obama’s killer robots.
His preferred weapons in the fight against extremism are soft power and empowering women.
“What if we went in there and assisted people literally in making girls’ schools?” he again proposes. “When you make a girls’ school, you have to have a community come together around it to support it and protect it. Girls’ schools and girls’ education can actually change places.”
Mieke Eoyang, director of the National Security program at the center-left think tank Third Way, is not terribly impressed by Jenkins’s analysis. “It’s really hard for folks on the outside who are not focused on this full-time to develop a coherent view of what’s really going on,” she says. “If I were this guy, I wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for the National Security Council to call…But [his views do] reflect a lot of people’s gut instincts.”
However, Jenkins’s foreign-policy prescriptions may be attractive to one group he recently irked: libertarians.
“I like this guy,” Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, tells The Daily Beast, weighing in on the Jenkins Doctrine. (Preble confesses to being a fan of Jenkins’s oeuvre, having downloaded Third Eye Blind: A Collection.)
“I think he’s really expressing what is quite a widespread view among the general public,” Preble continues. “There’s no way that if the public had been where it was after 9/11 and had not experienced Iraq—but also hadn’t had come to the realization that the Good War in Afghanistan turned out to be really hard and that we don’t have much to show for it—that we wouldn’t be more involved in Syria and Iraq than we are now…[Jenkins’s analysis] is a bit more sophisticated than the general public, and he clearly has given this more thought and more research than is typical. I disagree with him on the oil argument—but that is a widely held view, even among well-educated people.”
And this is where Third Eye Blind and their libertarian critics can find common ground: We should stop invading Arab republics so often. Perhaps one day they’ll agree on monetary policy.