Monday, April 03, 2017


Matt Taibbi is skeptical of the Trump/Russia story, although he concedes that there ought to be a real investigation and that that investigation might turn up a lot of shady stuff. But Taibbi has also developed the bizarre notion that Putin-bashing could be used to keep the Establishment in charge of the Democratic Party.

Taibbi, a Bernie Sanders admirer, scoffs at allegations that Russians tried to manipulate Sanders voters.
Last week, during hearings in the Senate, multiple witnesses essentially pegged [Sanders's] electoral following as unwitting fellow travelers for Putin.

Former NSA chief Keith Alexander spoke openly of how Russia used the Sanders campaign to "drive a wedge within the Democratic Party," while Dr. Thomas Rid of Kings College in London spoke of Russia's use of "unwitting agents" and "overeager journalists" to drive narratives that destabilized American politics.

This testimony was brought out by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner....

Testimony of the sort that came from Warner's committee last week is being buttressed by news stories in liberal outlets like Salon insisting that "Bernie Bros" were influenced by those same ubiquitous McDermott-chasing Russian "bots."

These stories insist that, among other things, these evil bots pushed on the unwitting "bros" juicy "fake news" stories about Hillary being "involved with various murders and money laundering schemes."
According to Taibbi, if you take any of these allegations seriously, as I do, you're arguing that every single Sanders voter chose him based on lying Russian propaganda:
Some 13.2 million people voted for Sanders during the primary season last year. What percentage does any rational person really believe voted that way because of "fake news"?

I would guess the number is infinitesimal at best. The Sanders campaign was driven by a lot of factors, but mainly by long-developing discontent within the Democratic Party and enthusiasm for Sanders himself.

To describe Sanders followers as unwitting dupes who departed the true DNC faith because of evil Russian propaganda is both insulting and ridiculous. It's also a testimony to the remarkable capacity for self-deception within the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Does Taibbi really not understand what's being argued here? Yes, there was disinformation about Hillary Clinton during the primaries, and yes, it almost certainly persuaded a number of voters (albeit an unknowable number) to conclude that they couldn't possibly vote for Clinton in the primary. But Clinton won the nomination anyway. The more important effect of the disinformation was after Clinton had clinched the nomination. Most Sanders voters shifted their allegiance to Clinton, but a large number of his voters refused, concluding that Clinton was as evil as Donald Trump or more so, and so a vote for Jill Stein (or Gary Johnson or even Trump himself), or a refusal to vote, or a write-in vote for Sanders, was the only morally acceptable choice. In an election that was won by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states, that mattered.

I can't believe I actually need to explain this. But Taibbi doesn't seem to grasp it.

In fact, he thinks this could be a technique used to block any insurgent Democratic candidate in the future:
If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of "unwitting" cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.

Imagine it's four years from now (if indeed that's when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.

Or, even better: that same candidate reminds us "what happened last time" when people decided to vote their consciences during primary season. It will be argued, in seriousness, that true Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin candidate. It would be a shock if some version of this didn't become an effective political trope going forward.
Calm down, Matt. No one argued anything of the sort during the Sanders insurgency in the primaries. Everyone understands that there were legitimate differences in policy and approach to the issues. Everyone understands that some voters saw Clinton as too status quo, too cozy with banks, too cozy with Henry Kissinger, and so on. On the flip side, there was ongoing sexism. Clinton failed to close the sale with many voters for a lot of reasons.

After the spring, it didn't matter. What mattered was the general election. And we know Putin harbored a special distaste for Clinton, while Trump was his useful idiot. So that was a special case.

Imagine Trump impeached or forced to resign or throwing in the towel by 2020. Imagine Mike Pence at the top of ticket, running as a conventional Republican. Now imagine Sanders is running again as the alternative to the Establishment. In that scenario, no one is going to say that you'd better vote for Andrew Cuomo or you're doing Putin's bidding. It's just not going to work that way. Would that be said about Jill Stein asa potential spoiler? Sure, because she's as Russophilic as Trump. But it's not going to be said about any Democratic insurgent just because he or she is an insurgent.

Does Taibbi really believe all this? Or is he just trying to reverse-bait the people he regards as Russia-baiters?


UPDATE: BooMan is enraged by what Taibbi has written, while NewsBusters is delighted. What more do you need to know?

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