Tulsi Gabbard vs. Liberal McCarthyism (1)

If there’s anything you might have thought “we’d” learned from the Trump presidency, it’s that well poisoning, guilt-by-association, and reputation-destruction-by-innuendo were all thoroughly bad ideas. Evidently, this isn’t what the leaders of the Democratic Party or the Democratic Party establishment have learned. What they’ve learned is that well poisoning, guilt-by-association, and reputation-destruction by innuendo are useful instruments for the conduct of internecine warfare against ideological positions they don’t like or don’t understand.

To get the gist, read this innuendo-laced piece on Tulsi Gabbard from The New York Times, prefaced by this title and blurb

What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?

As she injects chaos into the 2020 Democratic primary by accusing her own party of “rigging” the election, an array of alt-right internet stars, white nationalists and Russians have praised her.

That’s the essence of Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign, at least as seen by mainstream Democrats: an incomprehensible farrago of conspiracy theories, chaotic in intention, vaguely associated with the alt-right, white nationalism, and the Kremlin. The actual essence of Gabbard’s campaign: the only credible anti-interventionism on offer for the 2020 election.

Naturally, the question “What exactly is Tulsi Gabbard up to?” is not to be answered by looking into her actual views. Nor is it answered by considering the insanity of our foreign policy for the last twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years. Vietnam doesn’t come up. Lebanon doesn’t come up. Saudi Arabia doesn’t come up. Yemen doesn’t come up. Afghanistan and Iraq only come up pro forma and in passing. Israel comes up by invoking Gabbard’s phantom criticisms of a state she’s gone out of her way to praise. No, the question “What is Gabbard up to?” is to be answered by noting that Gabbard has an unsavory following of Nazi-friendly people–in the obvious hopes of eliciting the inference that having an unsavory following somehow indicates the unsavoriness of one’s views regardless of what those views happen to be. (Even the obviously non-alt-right part of her campaign is described as though there was something vaguely crazy about it.)

This is classic:

“She’s taken a series of policy steps which signal to the right that she has deep areas of alignment,” said Neera Tanden, a longtime policy adviser to Hillary Clinton who now leads the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

A longtime policy adviser to Hillary Clinton–Hillary Clinton, the architect of our Syria policy, the Secretary of State who insisted on operating to the right of Barack Obama on issues of warfare–is lecturing us about “deep areas of alignment with the right.” You can’t make this up.

More:

She already faces a serious primary challenge for her House seat from State Senator Kai Kahele, a Democrat. Though his campaign is focused on economic issues, he sees Ms. Gabbard’s support from extremists as a potential liability.

“Clearly there’s something about her and her policies that attracts and appeals to these type of people who are white nationalists, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers,” Mr. Kahele said. “To her credit she has denounced David Duke, rejected these endorsements. But it does beg the question why.”

If Antifa were running a strongly non-interventionist candidate, the Antifa candidate might well “attract” attention from the very same people. Would this prove that the Antifa candidate was a white nationalist? Would it prove that Antifa was even vaguely allied with white nationalism? Would the questions it “begged” tell us anything of importance about Antifa?

I hesitate to ask rhetorical questions about this for fear that in the current climate of opinion, half the leadership of the Democratic Party might say, “Sure!” That Gabbard has attracted attention from the alt-right doesn’t indicate, much less prove, that her candidacy bears any important relation to the alt-right. I’m sure the alt-right reads The New York Times, too. Does that “beg the question” why it does? If so, does the answer tend to suggest to any sane person that The New York Times is an alt-right publication?

Some polling research suggests that voters (idiotically) vote for candidates they regard as physically attractive. Tulsi Gabbard is by most accounts physically attractive. Now imagine that a bunch of neo-Nazis vote for her because they think she’s hot. Clearly there would be something about her that attracted these people to her. But what the hell does that have to do with anything? The luminaries of the Democratic Party are literally in the position of thinking that there’s got to be something. I mean, if the Nazis find her hot, there’s got to be something Nazi about her, right? How else do we explain her appeal?

I don’t entirely agree with Tulsi Gabbard’s views: some of them are wrongheaded, some downright offensive. But I could say that about anyone running in this election, including the “darlings” of the moment (to use the reporter’s word for Gabbard), Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, to say nothing of the Republicans. The real issue here isn’t so much about Gabbard as about guilt-by-association. You have to wonder about the idiocy of people who will casually hand white nationalists and the like a weapon they didn’t otherwise have: if they want to destroy anyone’s reputation, all they have to do now is pretend to support the person in question, adducing some half-assed reason for doing so. Within short order, the likes of Neera Tanden, Kai Kahele, and The New York Times will then be struck by some passing similarity that the person’s policy proposals bear to some white nationalist proposal–like, “let’s stop having pointless wars”–and declare that questions are “begged” about the person’s white nationalist/neo-Nazi/alt-right credentials.

It’s pretty sad that the Democrats are so inured to perpetual warfare that they have no idea how to size up an anti-war candidate. Gabbard is an anti-interventionist about foreign policy: I mean, what is that about? The more they take this line, the more credibility they give to the right-wing charge that mainstream news is fake news. And the more they take it, the more credibility they give to apathetic voters who conclude, with some justification, that as far as warfare and foreign policy are concerned, there is no daylight between Democrats and Republicans–just enveloping darkness wherever you look. This is their version of the McCarthyism of the 1950s: they’d rather we kept fighting wars than pause to ask why. And anyone who does ask why has to get the treatment.  It’s almost enough to inspire indifference about who wins in 2020. Almost.

10 thoughts on “Tulsi Gabbard vs. Liberal McCarthyism (1)

  1. Pingback: Nightcap | Notes On Liberty

  2. The Times’s desperate defense of its reporting:

    Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii seized on a question about the removal of American troops in Syria to launch a broadside against one of her favorite foes — the media — both in coverage of her campaign and coverage of the conflict in Syria.

    [Quotation from Gabbard]: Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing “regime change” war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war. Not only that but, The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war. Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears.

    The Times article Ms. Gabbard referenced, however, notes that the congresswoman is a frequent topic of Russian state news media; there is no inference that she is a Russian asset. Ms. Gabbard also met with the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in January 2017, and has said in the past that the dictator is “not the enemy of the United States.” In August, on CNN, Ms. Gabbard called Mr. Assad a “brutal dictator.”

    An “inference” is a conclusion reached by a reader. An “implication” is an unstated consequence of a claim made by an author. The Times’s article reports leading Democrats’ insinuations that Gabbard might be a Russian asset as though these were plausible claims. A reader could, on reading the Times’s article, fairly infer that there was substance to these claims. The article had no plausible purpose but to air the claims despite the complete lack of evidence for them.

    Meeting with Assad doesn’t make one an apologist for Assad, and saying that Assad is a brutal dictator is perfectly consistent with saying that he is not an enemy of the United States, at least in the sense of being a legitimate target of US warfare or regime change. So the Times’s adducing these two statements as though in rebuttal of Gabbard makes very little sense. But since the Times’s invoking the statements has no purpose other than rebuttal, the reader can fairly infer that the rebuttal fails.

    Gabbard seized on the moment to respond to the Times because she had no other opportunity to address the nation on the Times’s claims. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to call them “completely despicable,” but they do seem opportunistic, ill-reported, and kind of stupid.

    A reminder of the reporting itself:

    Still, Democrats are on high alert about foreign interference in the next election and the D.N.C. is well aware of the frequent mentions of Ms. Gabbard in the Russian state news media.

    An independent analysis of the Russian news media found that RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, mentioned Ms. Gabbard frequently for a candidate polling in single digits, according to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a group that seeks to track and expose efforts by authoritarian regimes to undermine democratic elections.

    Disinformation experts have also pointed to instances of suspicious activity surrounding Ms. Gabbard’s campaign — in particular, a Twitter hashtag, #KamalaHarrisDestroyed, that trended among Ms. Gabbard’s supporters after the first Democratic debate, and appeared to be amplified by a coordinated network of bot-like accounts — but there is no evidence of coordination between these networks and the campaign itself.

    Laura Rosenberger, a former policy aide to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and director of the Alliance, sees Ms. Gabbard as a potentially useful vector for Russian efforts to sow division within the Democratic Party.

    “The Russian activity could be part of a longer-term effort to drive a wedge among Democrats,” she said. “This messaging has echoes of 2016.”

    That kind of speculation inflames Ms. Gabbard’s supporters online, who are known for swarming Ms. Gabbard’s critics on Twitter, for attacking the news media and the Democratic establishment for perceived bias against her and for compiling YouTube clips of her “destroying” and “shutting down” her Democratic rivals.

    Ms. Gabbard’s fans are especially sensitive to claims that she is supported by Russian bots and amplified by the Russian state-funded news media outlets — a conspiracy theory, they say, that is designed to delegitimize her campaign and her foreign policy views.

    The pattern here is obvious: cite suspicious-looking evidence that Gabbard has Russian backing; legitimize these claims by invoking “experts” on their behalf; make a pro forma suggestion that the claims have not (yet) been confirmed without ruling out the possibility that they might be; then cite weak evidence against them, consisting exclusively of the emotional reactions of Gabbard’s “fans” and other, similar irrelevancies. The only “reporting” going on here is self-reporting on the motivated reasoning of the journalists involved.

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  3. Amusingly, the only people I have met who have expressed serious enthusiasm for Gabbard — though admittedly, I don’t get out much and I mostly hang out with 17 year olds, so this is two or maybe three people, depending on how we take ‘serious’ — are people for whom Bernie Sanders is not far enough to the left.

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    • That’s very far from the conventional take on Gabbard, which either takes her to be the most right-wing of the Democratic candidates, or as “an apologist for Assad,” which is now the mainstream liberal dogma on Gabbard. I don’t think either thing is true, but it’s become the conventional wisdom.

      From the Times’sWinners and Losers” take on the debate (scroll down to the Will Wilkinson comment).

      Charles Blow (2/10) — Hard pass. No ma’am …

      Jamelle Bouie (2/10) — The best way to show the world you aren’t an apologist for Assad is not to robotically repeat the same pro-Assad phrase for five minutes.

      Bianca Vivion Brooks (2/10) — It seems she should fully embrace her isolationist tendencies and distaste for mainstream media and run on the Republican ticket.

      Ross Douthat (4/10) — Sought, and conspicuously didn’t find, a defining conflict with Warren to match her earlier blow to Harris. Her pronunciation of “Mayor Pete” was her best moment.

      Michelle Goldberg (2/10) — You don’t prove you’re not an Assad apologist by robotically repeating his talking points. Why couldn’t she have boycotted?

      Nick Kristof (2/10) — Not a player tonight and weak on Syria, but glad she (and Sanders) mentioned Yemen.

      Daniel McCarthy (6/10) — You’d hardly think she was in the debate, but she got to repeat the phrase “regime-change wars.” She didn’t flinch from the implications of what opposing such wars means in Syria and confronts Democrats with an acid test of their antiwar bona fides, and most of them fail.

      Melanye Price (1/10) — It’s hard to understand how she continues to meet the requirements to get on the debate stage.

      Mimi Swartz (2/10) — Cool under fire, even when she sounded like a lunatic. But who brags about a friendship with Trey Gowdy?

      Tanzina Vega (2/10) — She threatened to boycott the debate. She should have stayed home.

      Pete Wehner (2/10) — She employed an odd debate strategy, which is to list all the negative things that others have said about her and then answer in an aggrieved tone. She also picked a weird moment to come to the defense of the Assad regime.

      Will Wilkinson (4/10) — Gabbard shored up her status as Trump voters’ favorite Democrat.

      Oddly, I think Gabbard triggers the left-center intelligentsia in something like the way that Trump does, because like Trump (but in a very different way), she represents a more fundamental moral challenge to their views than do the other candidates. Trump does that in the direction of sheer depravity, but I think that Gabbard simply has a different moral outlook than the other candidates or the left-center intelligentsia. Something about the challenge of engaging with it elicits visceral dislike and inspires them to lash out and attack her as a person.

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      • To be fair, the last time I talked to a real person about Gabbard was in mid-spring at the latest, back when the pool of candidates for primary was still taking shape, quite large, and hardly anybody had heard much about many of them. Mercifully, we don’t talk politics much at work, but when we do, Gabbard’s name doesn’t come up much these days. But I think what you’re saying here is consistent, in a perverse way, with what I’ve noted in the two or three outspoken pro-Gabbard folks I’ve heard from in my ordinary life. These are radical anti-war, pro-government-should-do-tons-of-stuff-to-help-us types of people, for whom even Bernie is too much an establishment figure and not at all sufficiently anti-war, otherwise very socially left but way out of the mainstream. They remind me of die-hard Kucinich supporters in 2004: peace, love, protectionism, isolationism, and multiculturalism but let’s take care of America since most of the world’s problems are due to American foreign policy and would go away if we destroyed the military-industrial complex. I think Gabbard’s appeal to such people, superficial as it may be, is entirely consistent with the mainstream elite response that you chronicle here.

        My main source of skepticism about your take on the mainstream response is that it seems to require that the mainstream elite regard Gabbard as a serious contender. I can’t see how she could be regarded as a serious contender — she’s pretty consistently polling behind Andrew Yang, of all people. Having paid little attention, I still find the “Russian asset” line bizarre, and I suppose you may be right that she’s drawing that response because of certain similarities to Trump. I’m not convinced that most are taking her seriously enough to be triggered by her, but perhaps my impressions are themselves products of the broader media narrative you’re critiquing.

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        • Gabbard is not a serious contender for the presidency, but she is getting enough press, and has a sufficiently unorthodox view (among Democrats), to be discomfiting to mainline Democrats. That makes her a serious contender for being a prominent dissident voice within the Democratic Party, which is ultimately what her campaign is about.

          While there’s little chance that she’ll win the presidency, she might–but for the campaign against her–have hoped to win a prominent place in a Democratic administration, or failing that, a prominent place within the party. By running hard, and posing tough questions along the way, she might have won the right to become Secretary of State or even Vice President. It wouldn’t matter that she polled behind Andrew Yang. A serious contender for Secretary of State simply has to have proven herself in public, as she clearly has. She doesn’t need to win the presidential election or even come close to doing so for that purpose. If it weren’t for the attacks on her, which question her very loyalty to the country, she could have been a serious contender for those positions or that role. But no longer. Now she’s been made to seem toxic. No candidate hoping to win any office will touch her with a ten-foot pole, for fear of being described as Russian agents or apologists for Bashar al-Assad.

          This is precisely why I’ve been so insistent about character-based voting. Imagine that Hillary Clinton were running in the 2020 election. Or consider Kamala Harris’s campaign, which has been the most willing to make use of anti-Gabbard defamations. We don’t need to ask how the use of such defamations will play out in policy terms before we regard them as a consideration in voting. The resort to defamation should by itself be sufficient to disqualify someone for office. Once you start blatantly lying about your rivals, then the more defamatory the lie, the more clearly disqualifying it should be. Once you falsely start accusing your rivals of espionage and treason, or treason-like behavior, that’s the end of the road. It doesn’t matter whether it plays a role in policy, or it’s a one-off that helped you win this particular election, and which you promise never to do again. After a certain point, willful defamation should be the end.

          I regard the attacks on Gabbard as willfully culpable defamation. She has a radically anti-interventionist stance of a kind that none of the front-runners have. Gabbard’s stance directly contradicts the letter and spirit of the views Hillary Clinton et al have taken for decades. The campaign against Gabbard is intended to preserve the Clintonite “legacy” if you want to call it that, a legacy that Gabbard hopes to undo. If Gabbard’s views were so stupid and implausible, the honest thing to do would be to rebut her. What they’ve done instead is to attack her character and poison the well. Now, anything that any non-interventionist says about Syria that vaguely sounds like Gabbard will be equated with a defense of Bashar al Assad. If it works in her case, they realize, it will work in every lesser case.

          The real underlying issue, of course, is not about Gabbard or Clinton per se, but about the role of truth and lies (or disinformation) in politics. After four years of Trump (including his campaign in the casualty count), you’d think that Democrats, of all people, might have learned to leave Trump-like techniques of dishonesty and manipulation alone. But the truth is, while Trump is sui generis, he’s not without his illustrious predecessors–Obama, Bush 2, Clinton, Bush 1, Reagan, Nixon, LBJ, JFK…They all lied their asses off. But a democracy can’t function for long on lies. I don’t know how long it will take for these assholes to figure that out, but they haven’t.

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