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Blaming Russia Is Irresistible to the Democrats

Posted on Dec 22, 2016

By Paul Street

  Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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It has been remarkable to behold masses of American liberals and progressives become convinced—or claim to be convinced—that Russian hackers under the command of Vladimir Putin attacked “our great democracy” to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and hand it to Donald Trump. This extraordinary, supposedly CIA- and New York Times-certified claim has garnered wide currency in liberal and Democratic Party circles despite the lack of smoking-gun substantiation on Putin’s involvement, not to mention the election’s outcome.

Did the probably Russian “Guccifer 2.0” and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks obtain and advance embarrassing hacked emails and other documents showing the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee’s underhanded machinations against Bernie Sanders, including corrupt dealings with the corporate media? Sure.

Did this happen on orders from the Kremlin? None of the Times-citing liberals who have spoken or written as if that is the case know it to be conclusively true. The proof has not been given, and they seem to have an almost childish faith in the notion that the CIA must know more than it can publicly say.

Did these leaks cause Clinton to lose to Trump? The top folks advancing the Democratic Party hacking narrative don’t have the gall to make that full assertion. Clinton, other top Democrats and the Times editorial board seem content to leave it as a suggestion for lesser Democrats—including Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman—to run wild with. I have spoken with many less-well-placed Democrats eager to do precisely that. But the most that Clinton’s campaign chief and top target of the leaks, John Podesta, can say for sure is that Russian interference “distorted the election.”

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What Great Democracy?

I am struck by six telling aspects of the liberal and Democratic Russia hacking narrative. First, there’s its rapidly disseminated pervasiveness alongside a dearth of proof. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Donald Rumsfeld argument that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Second, there’s liberals’ curious embrace of the CIA as a great organ of truth. So what if the CIA is one of the leading (if not the leading) institutional agents of systematic political deception, with a long history of falsifying intelligence to suit political purposes?

Third, there’s the hypocritical chutzpah of being outraged at outside interference in American elections when the U.S. and its CIA have long subverted elections and otherwise meddled in the political processes of other “sovereign” nations around the world, which Uncle Sam and his intelligence agencies continue to do. As secretary of state, Clinton herself helped subvert democratic election results in Honduras in 2009.

Fourth, there’s the real or pretend cluelessness on why Russian intelligence agencies would have wanted to encourage the defeat of Clinton. It wasn’t just because Putin had some strange personal “beef with Hillary.” The real historical meat of the matter is that candidate Clinton was a militantly anti-Russian New Cold War warrior and dedicated NATO-expansionist who promised to instigate dangerous conflicts with Moscow over Syria, Ukraine, internal Russian affairs and Eastern Europe more broadly.

Fifth, there’s the avoidance of any serious engagement with—or (as goes almost without saying) guilt about—the dreadful stuff that Hillary and Bill Clinton and the DNC did to candidate Bernie Sanders, the Democrats’ best chance to defeat Trump. It’s as if we’re all supposed to forget that terrible story, which might be considered a way in which establishment Democrats rigged the election for Trump. Clinton Democrats don’t deny or question the accuracy of what the WikiLeaks/Guccifer 2.0 document dumps showed on this score. But they seem to want us to wipe it from our memories in the name of outrage against Russia and its nefarious attack on the supposed grand “integrity of our elections” in what is supposedly the world’s greatest “democracy.”

Last but not least, there’s the brazen falsehood of the widespread belief that the U.S. is a “great democracy” in the first place, to be subverted by Russia (or anyone else). Over the past three-plus decades, leading academic researchers Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern), both establishment, liberal political scientists, have concluded, the U.S. political system has functioned as “an oligarchy,” ruled by the few wealthy elites and their corporations. Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo two years ago, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”

Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S., what Noam Chomsky has called “RECD”—“pronounced ‘wrecked’ by accident.”

The Inauthentic Opposition

The late Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin considered U.S.-style RECD a form of “corporate-managed fake-democracy” and “inverted totalitarianism.” He called it “democracy incorporated.” It’s a “democracy” in which the only two officially viable and corporate-captive political organizations, the Democratic and Republican parties, both stand well to the right of majority progressive-populist public opinion. The right-wing leadership of these two corporate and militarist parties skews the game against those in their party who would campaign and perhaps govern in accord with that public opinion.

Few thinkers have written about the deeply conservative essence of the Democratic Party more perceptively than Wolin. Near the end of the George W. Bush presidency, Wolin, in his book “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitariansim,” captured the shady, dollar-drenched nothingness of the “dismal Dems” (journalist Doug Henwood’s phrase) in the neoliberal era:

The Democrats’ politics might be described as inauthentic opposition in the era of Superpower. Having fended off its reformist elements and disclaimed the label of liberal, it is trapped by new rules of the game which dictate that a party exists to win elections rather than to promote a vision of the good society. … Should Democrats somehow be elected, corporate sponsors make it politically impossible for the new officeholders to alter significantly the direction of society. At best Democrats might repair some of the damage done to environmental safeguards or to Medicare without substantially reversing the drift rightwards. By fostering an illusion among the powerless classes that the party can make their interests a priority, it pacifies and thereby defines the style of an opposition party in an inverted totalitarian system. … While the Republican Party is ever vigilant about the care and feeding of its zealots, the Democratic Party is equally concerned to discourage its democrats. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class, anticorporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf. … By ignoring dissent and assuming that the dissenters have no alternative, the party serves an important … stabilizing function and in effect marginalizes any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.

Wolin’s dark reflections seem more than a little prophetic eight years later. Yes, milquetoast center Democrats were “somehow elected” in 2006 (the House) and 2008 (Barack Obama in the White House and a slight new Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate). George W. Bush’s fiasco in Iraq and the onset of the financial crisis saw to that.

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