Some years ago, a liberal-minded friend of mine complained during lunch that Fox News was “stealing” his elderly parents. “They should be enjoying retirement,” he said, noting that they live in a modest but comfortable style with attentive children and grandchildren to enjoy. “But instead,” he sighed, “they keep this channel on all day, and it makes them anxious and agitated.”
I thought of this exchange last week when Hillary Clinton gave an interview in which she accused socialist Jill Stein, President Donald Trump, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of being in various ways compromised or controlled by the Kremlin. That is, I started to wonder whether Hillary Clinton is the victim of a kind of media elder abuse. Is the broader media ecosphere of “the resistance” her daily source of paranoia? The ladies of The View have tried to validate her conspiratorial gibbering — the hosts this week spoke of Gabbard as a “Trojan horse” candidate. Is Clinton talking to John Brennan too much?
Just a few years ago, Clinton’s own memoir of her time at the State Department gave the impression that she was a mostly uneducated naïf, a historically illiterate New York Times reader trying to understand global politics. There was ignorance to spare, but no hint of conspiratorial madness. Why did the intervention in Libya go so wrong? Back then, she just shrugged. “Would the country’s future be shaped by the arms of its militias or the aspirations of its people?” Clinton wrote, with all the insight of a failed opinion columnist for a college newspaper.
But something darker has come upon her imagination lately. “I’m not making any predictions,” Clinton said in that recent interview.
But I think [the Russians] have got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not, because she’s also a Russian asset. . . . Yeah, she’s a Russian asset. I mean, totally. They know [Trump] can’t win without a third-party candidate.
The idea that the Kremlin is getting ready to support a third-party Tulsi Gabbard run is a form of madness, one that is becoming distressingly common among the septuagenarian outpatient group that America knows as its political-leadership class. That Clinton folded together Trump, Gabbard, and Stein this way nearly illustrated the way in which, for a certain kind of establishmentarian, all foreign-policy disagreement is evidence of treason.
Because the performance of our policy elite over the past two decades is so poor, they now must suspect everyone of being a Russian agent these days. Progressive journalist Glenn Greenwald is a “Russian agent” for these people. Mitch McConnell is “Moscow Mitch.” Nancy Pelosi says of the American president, “All roads lead to Putin.” I suppose the supermajority of Americans who opposed America’s changing the Syrian regime in 2013 are Kremlin agents, too. Even your humble scribe has been accused of being on Putin’s payroll by full-time online maniacs who occasionally take side gigs pretending to defend the free world.
My appreciation for Tulsi Gabbard has mostly been played off as a joke. But it’s real enough. Gabbard has occasionally relied on some dodgy materials while making her case against the American intelligence community, but I like that she has an independent streak and a genuinely different, undeniably American background. She served in the military after 9/11 and still serves as a reserve officer. She is consistently skeptical of what she calls regime-change wars. I’m happy that she pointed out the gap between Donald Trump’s America First rhetoric about bringing the troops home and the fact that he simply moved them from Syria to Saudi Arabia. Gabbard has tried, unsuccessfully, to moderate her party’s more paranoiac secularism, the type that sees a judge’s membership in the Knights of Columbus as a threat.
In fact, that last point is one of the most salient. Gabbard has been to a theater of war, and perhaps she has a more intuitive sense of the difference between real danger and cynical paranoia. Where others imagine Vatican plots when evaluating recent judicial nominee Brian Buescher, she sees an American Catholic with whom she has political differences. (Political differences are not quite yet criminalized in this country.) Where others concoct collusion with Russia, she sees genuine American dissent from Washington orthodoxy.
Perhaps war-skeptical conservatives are to Gabbard what Warren Harding was to Eugene V. Debs. President Harding pardoned Debs; his crime was giving a dovish speech in Chicago opposing President Wilson’s “war to end all wars.” It’s salutary to remember that war often makes not just the soldiers, but its leaders mean and insane. Clinton pretends to uncover a fifth columnist, thereby revealing that her own judgement, like that of the foreign policy she represents, is paranoid and subject to dementia. But Gabbard is innocent, and only the young can be as idealistic as she is.