OCTOBER 21, 2019 11:02AM ET
Everyone Is a Russian Asset
America laughed at Hillary Clinton’s remarks about Tulsi Gabbard, but her ideas fit perfectly in the intellectual mainstream
By MATT TAIBBI
Hillary Clinton, not long ago the nominee of the Democratic Party, had some choice words about the state of American politics Friday.
“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said on a podcast with former Barack Obama aide David Plouffe. “She’s the favorite of the Russians.”
Clinton appeared to be talking about Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a combat veteran. She wasn’t done, teeing off on former Green Party candidate Jill Stein:
“[Jill Stein’s] also a Russian asset… Yeah, she’s a Russian asset — I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate.”
She went on to talk about Donald Trump:
“I don’t know what Putin has on him, whether it’s both personal and financial … I assume it is.”
Hillary Clinton is nuts. She’s also not far from the Democratic Party mainstream, which has been pushing the same line for years.
Less than a week before Clinton’s outburst, the New York Times — once a symbol of stodgy, hyper-cautious reporting — ran a feature called, “What, Exactly, is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?” The piece speculated about the “suspicious activity” surrounding Gabbard’s campaign, using quotes from the neoconservative think-tank, the Alliance For Securing Democracy, to speculate about Gabbard’s Russian support.
This was the second such article the Times had written. An August piece, “Tulsi Gabbard thinks we’re doomed,“ hit nearly all the same talking points, quoting Clint Watts, an ex-spook from the same think-tank, calling Gabbard “the Kremlin’s preferred Democrat” and a “useful agent of influence.” The Times article echoed earlier pieces by the Daily Beast and NBC.com that said many of the same things.
After Clinton gave the “Russian asset” interview, it seemed for a moment like America’s commentariat might tiptoe away from the topic. Hillary Clinton has been through a lot over the course of a career, and even detractors would say she’s earned latitude to go loonybiscuits every now and then. A few of the Democratic presidential candidates, like Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang, gently chided Clinton for her remarks. But when Gabbard (who’s similarly been through a brutal media ordeal) snapped back and called Hillary “Queen of the warmongers,” and Donald Trump followed by calling Clinton “crazy,” most pundits doubled down on the “asset” idea.
Neoconservative-turned-#Resistance hero David Frum blasted Trump for defending Stein and Gabbard, noting sarcastically, “He was supposed to pretend they were not all on the same team.” Ana Navarro on CNN said, “When both the Russians and Trump support someone, be wary.” An MSNBC panel noted, in apparent seriousness, that Gabbard “never denied being a Russian asset.” CNN media critic Brian Stelter tried to suggest Hillary only seemed wacko thanks to a trick of the red enemy, saying, “It feels like a disinformation situation where the Russians want this kind of disinformation.”
(The “Russians caused us to say that crazy thing about Russians” meme has been a recurring theme. When Luke Harding of The Guardian was criticized for a thinly-sourced report that Julian Assange had met with Trump aide Paul Manafort in the Ecuadorian embassy, an anonymous CIA official penned an editorial in Politico suggesting that if the story was fake, “the most logical explanation” was a Russian disinformation effort to discredit journalists.)
Everyone is foreign scum these days. Democrats spent three years trying to prove Donald Trump is a Russian pawn. Mitch McConnell is “Moscow Mitch.” Third party candidates are a Russian plot. The Bernie Sanders movement is not just a wasteland of racist and misogynist “Bros,” but — according to intelligence agencies and mainstream pundits alike — the beneficiary of an ambitious Russian plot to “stoke the divide” within the Democratic Party. The Joe Rogan independents attracted to the mild antiwar message of Tulsi Gabbard are likewise traitors and dupes for the Kremlin.
If you’re keeping score, that’s pretty much the whole spectrum of American political thought, excepting MSNBC Democrats. What a coincidence!
Democrats now are assuming the role once played by Republicans of the Tom Delay era, who denounced everyone opposed to the War on Terror as “Saddam-lovers.” In the midst of this in 2003, the Washington Post protested the way American journalism was “infected with jingoism and intolerance.” That was after Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post ran a headline, “Don’t aid these Saddam-lovers” about “appeasement-loving celebs” like Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Penn, Danny Glover, and Susan Sarandon.
Today, the New York Post is the paper crying out against the “sad, sick conspiracy theories” about Gabbard (an “Assad-lover” instead of a “Saddam-lover”), but some of the other players are the same. Sarandon is regularly denounced now by Democrats instead of Republicans, this time for having supported Stein in 2016, an act seen as equivalent to having tongue-kissed Putin on live TV. She was also one of a handful of celebrities noted for a “controversial” political donation in the Daily Beast’s red-baiting May article about the suspicious contributors to Gabbard’s campaign.
The #Resistance has come up with all sorts of words for such fifth-columnists and deviationists: they are “false-balancers” or “false equivalencers,” “neo-Naderites,” “purity-testers,” “both-sidesists,” “whataboutists,” “horseshoe theorists,” “Russia skeptics” or “Russia denialists,” and “anti-anti-Trumpers.” Such heretics are all ultimately seen as being on “team Putin.”
This witch-hunting insanity isn’t just dangerous, it’s a massive breach from reality. Trump’s campaign was a clown show. He had almost no institutional backing. His “ground game” was nonexistent: his “campaign” was a TV program based almost wholly around unscripted media appearances. Trump raised just over half the $1.2 billion Hillary pulled in (making him the first presidential candidate dating back to 1976 to win with a funds deficit). He didn’t prepare a victory speech, for the perfectly logical reason that he never expected to win.
Even if you posit the most elaborate theories of Russian interference (which I don’t, but of course I’m denialist scum), what happened in 2016 was still almost entirely a domestic story, with Trump benefiting from long-developing public rejection of the political establishment.
Rather than confront the devastating absurdity of defeat before an ad-libbing game show host who was seemingly trying to lose – a black comedy that is 100% in America’s rich stupidity tradition – Democrats have gone all-in on this theory of foreign infiltration. House speaker Nancy Pelosi even said as much in a White House meeting, pointing at Trump and proclaiming: “All roads lead to Putin.”
All? Seriously? Is this ever going to end?