Thursday, July 15, 2021
This has become our whole style of political argument: hit someone with an unanswerable accusation and then, as Lyndon Johnson would say, make the sonofabitch deny it.
It’s why so much effort was spent denouncing “economic anxiety” as code for racism, why Hillary Clinton accused both Jill Stein and Tulsi Gabbard of being foreign assets, why the New Yorker ran a story arguing Glenn Greenwald’s criticism of Russiagate was rooted in his disdain for “the ascendance of women and people of color in the [Democratic] Party,” why Cenk Uygur is accusing “alt left” enemies of being “paid by the Russians,” why Current Affairs went after impossibly congenial podcast host Krystal Ball by accusing cohort Saagar Enjeti of being a human gateway drug to Hitler, why critics went after Substack by claiming it was racist and transphobic (or, most amusingly lately, “bad for democracy”), why former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet was ousted for putting the lives of black staff “in danger” by running a Tom Cotton editorial, and, yes, why Andrew Weissman went after Carlson by saying sowing distrust in the NSA is “un-American.”
These are all debate-pre-emptive strategies. When Clinton went after Gabbard, we stopped talking about whether or not military intervention in Syria was a good idea, and moved to debating whether Gabbard was an accomplice to genocide. Critics of Russiagate from the start had to calculate their appetites for being accused of supporting Putin or Trump. Anyone even considering going on Fox now can expect to spend years answering questions about abetting fascism and white supremacy. Argument goes out the door: the discourse becomes entirely about courage and career risk. How much flak are you willing to take? How much can you afford to take?
This is why people who probably have very different or even opposite politics on the policy level, like Greenwald and Carlson, are suddenly in a broadcast partnership. They’re part of a dwindling club left in major media who are defying these tactics. In a hypothetical universe where this moral panic era subsides, one could envision them going back to violently arguing with one another over immigration, spending, policing, etc. But for now they’re on the same side, not on issues, but against a tactic.