One of the interesting and frustrating parts of following the Democratic primary is that media bias is a major problem. The BBC hasn’t spent much time covering the Democratic pre-primary politics, and most US news outlets are either “red” or “blue” outlets that put out more opinion than fact.
“Red” media generally just bash Democratic candidates; “blue” media have their own favorite candidates (typically Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and/or Pete Buttigieg), and cover their rivals more negatively if at all. Andrew Yang has been disproportionately ignored given his polling and fundraising; Beto O’Rourke went through a whiplash reversal from being a blue media darling while running for Texas Senate to a pariah presidential candidate.
Tulsi Gabbard has been the candidate that I have most often been forced to rethink, because a lot of the coverage surrounding her is at best misleading and at worst inaccurate.
Hillary Clinton and Tulsi Gabbard
Misleading coverage of Tulsi reached a recent high thanks to an unfounded public accusation by Hillary Clinton that Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein are Russian assets.
Campaign HQ with David Plouffe
Listen to Campaign HQ with David Plouffe episodes free, on demand. David Plouffe, President Barack Obama’s campaign…
She’s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far — and that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, she might not, ’cause she’s also a Russian asset.
I provide the exact quote in the event that anyone reading this might be confused by the fact that the New York Times has adjusted their story on the topic. Shortly after the podcast in which Hillary Clinton said that both Jill Stein and a certain Democratic candidate were Russian assets, Hillary Clinton’s staff clarified that she was referring to Tulsi Gabbard.
That is to say, Gabbard was identified as the specific target of the accusation of being a Russian asset before she responded by calling Clinton the queen of warmongers. She also accused Clinton of orchestrating a smear campaign against her.
This was not the first episode of friction between Hillary Clinton and Tulsi Gabbard. In 2016, Tulsi Gabbard became the fourth sitting member of Congress to endorse Bernie Sanders. She did so at the end of February, citing Clinton’s hawkishness and accusing the DNC of trying to stack the deck against Bernie Sanders.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Steps Down From DNC, Endorses Sanders
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders in his bid to become President of the United States this…
She and many others criticized the DNC for bias against Sanders. Tulsi’s resignation was one of the key acts that brought national attention to the fact that insiders were fighting hard against Sanders from behind the scenes. polling tightened significantly in early March, and Sanders gained traction with a string of victories.
Jill Stein, Russia, and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss.
Jill Stein’s third-party run as Green was one factor that was likely sufficient (through a potential “spoiler effect”) to explain Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. Hillary Clinton has blamed both Stein and the Russians (along with others) for her loss. Some evidence has been presented that Russia tried to promote Stein (e.g., 1 2); but no evidence emerged suggesting that Stein’s campaign was in contact with the Russians.
Comparing and contrasting this lack of evidence to the lengthy list of suspicious contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian agents in the Mueller Report, it seems very unlikely that Jill Stein colluded, coordinated, cooperated, or was even aware of Russian efforts on her behalf. Jill Stein, in other words, does not appear to be a “Russian asset” in any meaningful sense of the word.
The DNC, Russia, & Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss
Public awareness that that the DNC had tried unfairly to stack the deck in Hillary Clinton’s favor during the primaries was another factor that was likely sufficient to explain Hillary Clinton’s narrow loss in the general election. Tulsi was one of the early public figures speaking out against this unfairness.
Russians again are linked to this factor in Clinton’s loss. The accusations of DNC bias would be thoroughly vindicated when the DNC was targeted by Russian hackers and WikiLeaks released large numbers of internal DNC e-mails, which provided ample evidence of bias.
Investigation of Tulsi Gabbard
As with Jill Stein, there’s a distinct lack of real evidence that Tulsi Gabbard is a foreign agent or cooperating with such. One item I’ve seen offered as conclusive “proof,” for example: Gabbard once hired a publicist working in the D.C. area, who was one of several hired to promote a pro-Russian documentary… a second-degree connection that is not meaningful once we parse out the fact that we have little to no reason to believe the publicist himself is a Russian agent, simply a professional who happened to be hired by one once in a long record with a variety of employers and clients.
Also as with Jill Stein, the most important evidence against Tulsi Gabbard being a Russian asset is the lack of evidence in favor of the allegation. As a member of several key subcommittees with access to sensitive information, Gabbard is in a position to do immense damage if she were a foreign agent. She also — consequentially — already been scrutinized repeatedly as a recipient of highly sensitive information.
This, in turn, makes it unlikely that she is a Russian asset in any meaningful sense of the word. It’s hard to see a motive for her to cooperate with Vladimir Putin, and easy to explain her positions and actions in terms of her publicly declared motives.
Tulsi Gabbard’s motives
One of the missing pieces of the Hillary Clinton’s accusation is motive. Tulsi Gabbard has explicitly said that she will not run as a third-party candidate. Doing so would most likely guarantee a loss, both as a presidential candidate and as a candidate for re-election to the House of Representatives.
Update: Tulsi Gabbard has recently announced she is not running for re-election for her House seat. This makes her path forward less clear.
It is not clear why Tulsi Gabbard would torpedo her own political career on behalf of Vladimir Putin by running a losing third-party campaign. What would Tulsi Gabbard get out of this? Again, compare and contrast to the Trump-Russia accusations, which have identified multiple possible motives, both political and financial.
Hillary Clinton’s motives
Tulsi Gabbard’s role in the 2016 election gives Hillary Clinton a reason to dislike Tulsi Gabbard. Hillary Clinton has well-placed connections in many blue media outlets. These connections give her the means to conduct a national smear campaign against Gabbard. Gabbard’s presidential bid is a perfect chance to do so on the national stage.
Accordingly, either when we consider Clinton’s original accusation as a potential act of malice or when we consider Gabbard’s accusation that Clinton orchestrated a smear campaign against her, we can identify means, motive, and opportunity for Clinton to do so. Like most accusations of conspiracy, including Clinton’s, it is impossible to disprove, making it a pernicious and irresponsible sort of accusation; however, it is an accusation that makes sense.
Kamala Harris and earlier insinuations
One of the important things to realize about Hillary Clinton’s accusation is that she was not the first to accuse Tulsi Gabbard of being a Russian asset. In the second Democratic debates, Tulsi Gabbard went on the offense against Kamala Harris, taking on (largely truthfully) her record as attorney general of California.
Immediately afterwards, Kamala Harris’s press secretary hit back, claiming that Tulsi Gabbard was being promoted by Russian bots. The controversy surrounding the conflict involved many insinuations that Tulsi Gabbard was acting on behalf of Russia by attacking Kamala Harris. Since then, there has been a steady litany of attacks on Tulsi Gabbard insinuating or outright accusing Tulsi Gabbard of being a Russian asset.
In this light, Hillary Clinton’s accusation is simply a repetition of what’s already been insinuated repeatedly by others in blue media, as well as by Kamala Harris’s staff. It’s not strange that Hillary Clinton might repeat negative insinuations made about someone she doesn’t like.
The basic facts of Tulsi
Before I started looking into her as one of the field of presidential candidates, most of the little I had heard about Tulsi Gabbard was very negative: She was supposedly a rabid homophobe who supported dictators, a Republican in all but name on social issues and off the chart with bizarre foreign policy.
The grain of truth behind the accusation of homophobia is that she was opposed to recognition of civil unions early in her political career, but has — like many other Democratic politicians — changed her position on the issue over time. Her record on GSM issues since her election to Congress has been consistently strongly liberal, as expected from a Democrat representing Hawaii. She’s also thoroughly admitted and explained her movement on the issue. (See this archived 2012 article.)
She has gone through a similar pivot on abortion; while she has publicly pronounced dislike for third-trimester abortions (a very mainstream view), her voting record is firmly in line with the pro-choice side of the abortion conflict.
I frequently have heard that Tulsi Gabbard is an “Assadist.” Misleadingly, this could be read as an expression that she is interested in actively propping up Assad in much the same way that previous administrations have offered military aid to various dictators. The grain of truth is that she has been consistently opposed to US involvement in the Syrian civil war; but has also publicly called Assad a brutal dictator, directly comparing him to Saddam Hussein.
Her stance on foreign policy, both as a congresswoman and a candidate for president, has been clear, if not popular. She is one of the more isolationist / non-interventionist politicians. She draws parallels betwen the Syria situation and the US invasion of Iraq, justifying skepticism about the intelligence reports used to justify escalating levels of intervention.
While this position is not popular among modern politicians, it is part of a long vein of American political tradition that can be traced all the way back to the beginning of the republic and the former colonists’ memories of getting dragged into European wars. It is a mistake to classify non-interventionism as being in favor of dictatorships.
There is a complex moral and ethical debate to be had over interventionist versus non-interventionist policy. I think voters can make up their own minds on that issue without deceptive oversimplifications.
A Democrat, not a Republican in all but name
Like most modern Congressional Democrats, Tulsi Gabbard’s record is very firmly Democratic; she cannot be mistaken for a Republican in objective terms, and trying to paint her as one is deeply misguided.
Voteview | GABBARD, Tulsi
GABBARD, Tulsi, Representative from Hawaii; born in Leloaloa, American Samoa, April 12, 1981; B.S.B.A., Hawaii Pacific…
The same basic fact is true of every other Democratic candidate in the current field of candidates. In an era of increasing partisanship, polarization, and attention to ideological purism, even the most moderate of the Democratic candidates is closer to the median of the Democratic party than to the most moderate Republicans in Congress.
The other candidates’ responses and cancellation contagion
Because of either some combination of the above factors, personal acquaintance with Tulsi Gabbard, a calculated political decision not to attack other candidates, or the simple realization that the congresswoman from Hawaii is likely to continue in her office, most of the other presidential candidates have chosen to either defend Tulsi Gabbard against the charge of being a Russian asset or remain silent.
One of the more curious and disturbing things I’ve seen on Twitter is that a certain number of Hillary Clinton loyalists are saying that Democratic presidential candidates must denounce Tulsi Gabbard in order to prove that they are not also Russian assets.
In a certain light, this is an exhibition of how the “guilt by association” fallacy can be toxic and spread. We start with one identified “bad” person or group — in this case “the Russians.” Saying that Tulsi Gabbard is bad because she wants the US out of Syria and that Russia also wants to US out of Syria is guilt by association.
Extending this to say that candidates who fail to condemn Gabbard should also be cancelled is a second-degree guilt by association attack.
Disclaimer and recommendations
I have no association with Tulsi Gabbard or Hillary Clinton whatsoever. Tulsi Gabbard is currently my eighth or ninth favorite Democratic presidential candidate out of a field of approximately eighteen major candidates.