The silly “Russian asset” meme

There was an interesting point made on a Reason podcast, in a discussion of the 2016 Green Party candidate being a Russian asset:

Think about what it takes to go to the polls in 2016 when the opponent is Donald Trump and to vote for Jill Stein. You got to have a real big problem with Hillary Clinton to do that.

The names of Trump and Clinton could be reversed, and replace Stein with Darrell Castle.

First of all, watching Hillary Clinton spread conspiracy theories about how the Russians are “grooming” Tulsi Gabbard and how Stein is “absolutely” a Russian asset is just sad. As much fun as it is to ridicule the “Queen Of Warmongers” I actually feel sorry for her. She is obsessed with her loss in 2016 and cannot move on. I cringe looking at her display this level of bitterness. She needs to accept the loss and move on, for the sake of her own sanity.

On to the actual theory: Gabbard has ruled out a third-party run. She will not be President in 2021, but she is building up name recognition and political capital now that she can use to advance her career in the future. She is not going to throw that away to re-elect Donald Trump, a man with whom she has profound political disagreements. The fact that Russian trolls are fond of her does not mean she has any fondness for the Kremlin. It means that her name, right now, is generating clicks, hashtags and web traffic.

This “Russian asset” meme has been compared to modern-day McCarthyism, but I think it is better described as political cowardice and intellectual dishonesty. It is easier to dismiss an argument you find uncomfortable if you dismiss the person making the argument as a “bot” or someone working on a “Putin troll farm.” Then, you make the discussion about the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself and the facts used to support it. It is the same tired, boring ad hominem tactics that have been used in political debates for thousands of years, and it is every bit as cowardly and dishonest as it ever was.

I would never vote for Gabbard, because outside of non-interventionist foreign policy I disagree with her on almost everything. I do respect that she is willing to stand up to the political establishment. I also respect that – while she is an abortion rights supporter – she has pushed back against the extremism of her party in suggesting third trimester abortions are a bridge too far. She is certainly “progressive,” but she is not a wild-eyed radical – and she does not pretend to be one to pander to the “woke” base of her party. We need more people like her in politics.