Wednesday, April 26, 2017

For the Win!

Katha Pollitt has a new column at The Nation chiding those who use the word "McCarthyism" with regard to concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.  She makes some valid points, mainly that the power of the State is mostly not involved this time; indeed, as she says, "this time around, the state is firmly in the grip of the supposed victims of the witch hunt. Donald Trump isn’t a high-school teacher who once subscribed to The Daily Worker; he is president of the United States."  True enough, and I'm not worried about Trump or the members of his administration; nor, I feel sure, are the writers she's criticizing.  (P.S. Though she omits the small detail that McCarthyism 1.0 began by targeting people -- alleged Communists -- in the State Department, including the Secretary of State himself.  Then-President Truman, who in 1947 had instituted loyalty oaths in the Federal government on the same rationale, replied during a press conference that McCarthy was "the best asset that the Kremlin can have.")

She overlooks some things, though.  I think they're important.  "But why," she asks rhetorically, "is it unbalanced, overwrought, irrational, or crazy to suspect that Russia hacked the DNC?"  It's not, and while I haven't read every writer she's criticizing -- they're mostly regulars at The Nation, which I hardly read anymore -- those writers I have read concede willingly and explicitly that it's not unreasonable to have "suspicions," and have called for a serious, nonpartisan official investigation into the accusations. " Which, she admits, "indeed, The Nation has called for in an editorial, albeit one that mostly debunks the possibility that anything happened or, if it did, that it mattered."

The trouble, which she doesn't address, is that the accusations surfaced in articles in the corporate media, almost all of which all turned out to be false and were retracted as soon as they were published, only to be replaced with new falsehoods.  Journalists who pointed this out were accused by Democratic loyalists (who seemed to have forgotten that the USSR hadn't existed for over twenty years) of being in the pay of Putin.  Having suspicions is one thing, unfounded attempts to smear critics are another.  Did that Nation editorial debunk "the possibility that anything happened," or the manufactured panic over the possibility?  I'd bet the latter, and that is entirely reasonable.

Pollitt can hardly be unaware of all this, so she must be conveniently forgetting it.  She dismisses the claim by some of her targets that the fuss has been a "distraction"
that focusing on Russia distracts Democrats from accepting the blame for Hil
lary Clinton’s defeat and appealing to voters by attacking Trump’s terrible policies. But why can’t we do both? Even Bernie Sanders, no apologist for Hillary, has asked what Russia might have on Trump.
Again, this is less than fully candid, as shown by Pollitt's characterization of Clinton's campaign.  Of course "we" can do both.  The trouble is that the Democrats haven't been doing both.  Focusing on Russia has allowed them not to attack Trump's terrible policies Because Putin.
In fact, alleged Russian interference in the election has been a pretty successful issue for the Dems. A Quinnipiac poll at the end of March found that 66 percent of Americans support an investigation by an independent commission, and 65 percent think the alleged Russian interference is “very important” or “somewhat important.” Keeping the heat on the issue has also helped destabilize the Trump operation—Manafort and Flynn are gone, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigation into Russian meddling, as has Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, a Trump ally and chair of the House Intelligence Committee. I wouldn’t call that distracting; I’d call it fighting to win.
This tends to support, not refute, the suggestion of distraction.  Like The Nation's editors and other thought criminals, I also support an investigation by an independent commission, which is not the same as accepting that the accusations are true.  I notice that Pollitt doesn't mention the poll which found that 50 percent of Democrats believed that the Russians had hacked the American vote in November to give Trump the victory.  "I wouldn't call that distracting; I'd call it fighting to win."  Really?  What do ordinary Americans, to say nothing of ordinary citizens of other countries targeted by American bombs, get from this "win"?

Pollitt's tone is more reasonable than that of media hacks like, say, JoyAnn Reid of MSNBC or Keith Olbermann, but I think that's superficial.  (Never mistake moderation of tone for moderation of content.)  She tiptoes around the core questions, and is not quite honest about the position of the colleagues she criticizes.  She used to be one of the main reasons I subscribed to The Nation; now she's one more reason I don't.