Revisiting Obama on the Weakness of American Democracy

It has become fashionable, of late, for pundits to say President Obama failed to respond accordingly to the Russian hack last year. As I showed in this analysis of WaPo’s 8300 word opus making that argument, such claims tend to give the views of the CIA and Democrats most emphasis, obscuring the degree to which even within the Intelligence Community there was less certainty than narrative reconstructions make out. They also tend to ignore some key events — like assassinations and indictments of Russian hackers — in claiming nothing has happened, effectively pretending that sanctions are the necessary and exclusive possible response. Significantly, they also tend to ignore ongoing developments, most notably the Shadow Brokers leaks and the global ransomware launched using it, that may constrain our possible responses for the moment.

In other words, the narrative condemning Obama inaction ignores a lot.

Such analyses also miss another important point, something Obama pointed out in his December speech on the Russian hack. It’s a point I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, especially today.

To the extent the Russian hack was effective, Obama argued, it’s because our own politics have made us vulnerable.

Our vulnerability to Russia or any other foreign power is directly related to how divided, partisan, dysfunctional our political process is. That’s the thing that makes us vulnerable.

If fake news that’s being released by some foreign government is almost identical to reports that are being issued through partisan news venues, then it’s not surprising that that foreign propaganda will have a greater effect, because it doesn’t seem that far-fetched compared to some of the other stuff that folks are hearing from domestic propagandists.

To the extent that our political dialogue is such where everything is under suspicion, everybody is corrupt and everybody is doing things for partisan reasons, and all of our institutions are full of malevolent actors — if that’s the storyline that’s being put out there by whatever party is out of power, then when a foreign government introduces that same argument with facts that are made up, voters who have been listening to that stuff for years, who have been getting that stuff every day from talk radio or other venues, they’re going to believe it.

So if we want to really reduce foreign influence on our elections, then we better think about how to make sure that our political process, our political dialogue is stronger than it’s been.

I’m unsympathetic to Obama’s complaints that people distrust our institutions. His DOJ, after all, failed to prosecute torturers, illegal wiretappers, and most of all, the banksters that crashed our economy. The distrust of our institutions, including the press that got us into the Iraq War, has been earned.

We need to start thinking about what they would need to do to earn trust anew.

But Obama is right about why the hack succeeded, to the extent it did. Almost everything Russia did — create fake scandals, try to tamper with the ability to vote — the Republicans (and occasionally, Democrats too) have been doing for decades. In fact, we now know that a long-time GOP ratfucker, Peter W Smith, was even trolling hacker forums looking for someone who might have hacked Hillary’s private server. So whatever the Russians did, they largely just joined the predictable and persistent GOP wave doing precisely the same.

And for decades, we have tolerated that — explicit voter suppression, fake scandals, cheating to win — from the GOP.

As I said last week, when Democrats were responding to Kris Kobach’s latest attempt to suppress the vote, it’s time for all patriotic Americans to establish and commit to a standard for our democracy, one that doesn’t tolerate the same tactics a foreign government would use to its advantage.

We’re stuck with the Republicans for at least two more years, and they’re determined to do as much damage to our democracy to prevent paying any price for the crap they’re currently pulling, so it may be longer than that. But we need to think of this about restoring our democracy, not just beating the other team.

Happy Fourth of July. May we find a way to keep the Republic.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

31 replies
  1. seedeevee says:

    Maybe Obama didn’t see that non-existent evidence of that “Russian hack” either?

  2. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT?: M.E.Doc servers siezed

    http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN19P1YF

    The police move came after cyber security investigators unearthed further evidence on Tuesday that the attack had been planned months in advance by highly-skilled hackers, who they said had inserted a vulnerability into the M.E.Doc progamme.

  3. Peterr says:

    His DOJ, after all, failed to prosecute torturers, illegal wiretappers, and most of all, the banksters that crashed our economy. The distrust of our institutions, including the press that got us into the Iraq War, has been earned.

    We need to start thinking about what they would need to do to earn trust anew.

    Keeping the CFPB independent and functioning would be a good start, along with fact-based science agencies like EPA, NOAA, NIH, CDC, and others.

  4. greengiant says:

    Yet to see this on the Peter W. Smith story, since Macron’s team claim they salted their own emails with disinformation and that hacker’s have added modified emails in the past, was team Trump a little too quick to accept the Weiner version of Clinton emails, the only legally acquired “full” version thereof, or did they just make #fakenews shit up when they claimed Clinton would be indicted and was guilty of pedophilia? Were there multiple versions of the Weiner emails, or did the NYPD/FBI find modified emails and not divulge this when Comey closed down the investigation the second time. Since so many Clinton emails were withheld, it begs belief that Weiner’s laptop did not included any of those withheld emails. Yet it only took a few days for Comey to say “crickets”, all emails previously accounted for.
    The Putin/Trump/Assange team went to France and bragged about doing Macron and was eyebrow deep in Weinergate and prior hacks. Putin’s defenders here are like Trump’s tweets, every one just a confirmation of guilt continuing to confuse the issues of
    why so many people fall for fake news and have unaddressed grievances with Dems.
    As far as Obama and the Republic, Obama for his small part crapified America very well thank you and that is the basic problem with increasing corruption. No progress here until there is a ground up capture of either party from the thieves. Violence is not a solution. The Trump Mueller show is a sidestep and ultimately a distraction not a solution.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    This is a slam dunk
    Obama did not want to influence the election and thought Hillary would win
    After she lost, he sent in motion the Russian hack information to fuck Trump.
    He was right and he is a smart man.
    It will all come out in the end that Trump is a con man, a not good fucking liar.

  6. lefty665 says:

    You are right, restoring democracy is not about beating the other team. The bipartisan elites, that is fat cat Repubs and neoliberal Dems, have things arranged the way they want them. Restoring democracy means overthrowing the elite bipartisan political establishment. Real average wages for workers and median family income have not gone up since 1978 while the elites have prospered, and the more elite the greater the prosperity.

    Until recently it has seemed the Repubs were hopeless, the inmates were running the asylum. However, recently the people of Kansas decided they had had enough and elected merely conservative Repubs to raise taxes and to restore public services that had been decimated by the teabaggers. That is a start.

    The Dems have been equally hopeless, having in the ’70s abandoned their New Deal lower and middle class, working class, base for elite professionals.  Ironically while seemingly well intentioned they have done more damage to our people and our democracy than the Repubs. Even after the election disaster last year the Dems failed to get the message. The elite neolibs have kept the reins of power in the party, and while preaching the same neoliberal crap that lost last November they have gone on to lose all four subsequent congressional special elections.  The Dems are not showing even as much rationality as the Repubs in Kansas.

    Last year the voters declared enough, a pox on both your houses, and rejected both establishment Repubs in the primaries and the elite neolib Dem in the general election (some might call that democracy in action).  But, that is not working out so well,  the elites are still in the driver’s seat. It seems we have reached this juncture before. Here’s how our forefathers (and mothers) put it:

    “WHEN in the Course of human Events it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth the separate & equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”

    There were political parties in George III’s England, but our revolution was not partisan,  it was against an oppressive and abusive elite ruling structure of which the parties were merely a part.  Do we have the will, as Marcy says, to “find a way to keep the Republic”?   As Virginia’s own Patrick Henry put it “If this be treason make the most of it”.

    Happy Independence Day to all.

     

  7. Bay State Librul says:

    “Once upon a time, it may have been possible for rage to inspire the people of a nation into action, but that was because mass media, like radio, taught citizens how to surrender their individuality and become a people. Today, online, there is no collective soul but only a swarm of isolated individuals, through whom political indignation ripples like a wave—and dissipates.” so says Caleb Crain commenting on In The Swarm.
    He has a point.
    Lefty, you think the citizens of Kansas are changing after the “Kansas Fiasco” In my opinion, they will remain a Red State.
    If you mention “elitist neolib democrat” once more, I’ll have to take you off my Christmas List.
    Don’t be a “both sider”…. The Republicans are for the rich and the Dems for the poor. Please listen to Bruce Springsteen, give up your ghost and come back to the Dems. You will be much happier.

    • emptywheel says:

      The Dems aren’t for the poor. They’re explicitly for what they call the Middle Class.

      They’re also totally dysfunctional, in part because they’ve forsworn accountability for failure.

  8. Bay State Luibrul says:

    Okay, middle class and the poor.
    I admit we failed.
    Dysfunctional, we are all a little dysfunctional.
    Fuck, do people expect perfection?
    Have you read Sheldon Whitehouse’s book?
    There is where the problem lies.

    • lefty665 says:

      Good commentaries indeed, and Schneier is a straight up guy.  It occurred to me that, while not Felten, Blaze or Schneier’s direct point, Hillary, the Dems and media have done all in their power to undermine the legitimacy of our election. It did not take actual proof of hacking to undermine our election, simply the repeated high volume shrieks of “THE RUSSIANS” have been enough to do it. Hillary et al  have done far more damage than hackers, whatever their origin – Russian or not, could have dreamed of doing, and it continues.

      These are the sentences that turned my head and evoked an image of John Brennan, not to mention Reality Winner:

      Felton: “Or the attacker might fabricate evidence of an attack, and release the false evidence after the election.”

      Blaze: “If the “wrong” candidate wins, however, they could covertly reveal evidence that county election systems had been compromised, creating public doubt about whether the election had been “rigged”. This could easily impair the ability of the true winner to effectively govern,”

      It is not as if Trump needed any help to impair his ability to govern, but he has gotten lots of it.

      It reminds me of Bin Laden’s observation that if he could hurt us we would so over react that we would destroy ourselves. 16 years later that is a mission we are still intent on executing. We do not seem to have acquired much insight, but we have killed Bin Laden and replaced him with Putin & nuclear armed Russia on our enemies list. That may make us more effective at destroying ourselves.

       

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        I do not believe OBL was directly behind 911. Manipulated scapegoat. Too much logistics involved to carry out remotely. Thermate pre-loaded. Too many excuses. Jet fuel will not melt steel. Bush magically not in DC. But, I’m just a charlatan, right?

        • lefty665 says:

          Charlatan never crossed my mind as a descriptor of you.  We disagree on OBL, but I’ve got less than zero interest in stinking up this thread with that. I’d have been happy if Duhbya had magically never been in D.C.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        Sabre-ratlling. NK, now China, It’s the Ruskies!

        No, it is US MIC. Someone is itching for a fight. Money flow. Fascists hurting for cash.

        They must have FUD. They need cash.

        Some group is broke.

  9. GKJames says:

    It’s a dilemma, given that the current state is preferred by a significant-enough element of the demos. The goal is laudable, but the idea that, in this environment, the two halves will “establish and commit to a standard for our democracy” — even on something as fundamental as the voting machinery itself — seems far-fetched. We can’t even get to a consensus on what the Russians did and why it might matter.

  10. orionATL says:

    lefty @ 12:57

    lefty, you have a long, long history history at emptywheel of spouting vicious anti-clinton claptrap at every opportunity. your recent comments don’t show any evidence of increasing wisdom or accuity. you have become a characature of a political analyst.

    the word “neoliberal” and the phrase “neoberal elites” are merely political pejoratives, name calling, no different from any other, say, “running dog of capitalism”.

    as for your invocation of the “deplorables” misquote/half-quote as a fair criticism of clinton and her campaign, you are clearly in the donald trump propaganda camp.

    here is the quote in its entirety:

    “… I know there are only 60 days left to make our case—and don’t get complacent, don’t see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think well he’s done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?

    The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now [have] 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket—and I know this because I see friends from all over America here—I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas—as well as, you know, New York and California—but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well…. ”

    the” deplorables” clinton mentioned were just that. and – no surprise – they remain just that to this day. a whole range of violent incidents in the last 6 months can be attributed to individuals energized by donald trump’s rhetoric and sanctified by fox news/breitbart coverage of our politics.

    far more importantly, so can a gatheting tsunami of hurtful social commentary and discriminatory state and federal legislation and litigation aimed at immigrants, “sex identity transgressors”, ethnic groups, and reporters and media.

    these are immensely distructive behaviors initiated or strongly supported by both trump and by his followers.

    putin has got to be pleased and heartened at the extraordinary rivening of american society he and the newest american president have accomplished whether in consert or coincidentally.

    • wayoutwest says:

      It’s reassuring to see that a snowflake spokesperson is maintaining the rhetoric of hate, division and arrogance. This core liberal attitude has worked wonderfully so far and can’t help but improve the loser party’s position, keep it up.

        • wayoutwest says:

          Displaying your violent fantasies in public may not be wise behavior today and why would I be destroying my oven with an incendiary?

          • John Casper says:

            wayout,

            Since you raised it, “snowflake,” what day do you consider it “wise” to display your “violent fantasies in public?”

            WRT destroying your “oven” with “an incendiary,” your “core” wingnut attitude history of violent metaphors and similes to maintain “the rhetoric of hate, division and arrogance,” answers that.

            Your side keeps winning, because you’re a tool of the elites.

  11. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Why does media listen to Kris Kobach?
    Fascist or just hypocrite does not matter.

    http://thehill.com/regulation/other/340738-voter-fraud-commission-may-have-violated-law

    President Trump’s voter fraud commission may have violated the law by ignoring federal requirements governing requests for information from states.

    The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked all 50 states for extensive information last week on their voters, including full names and addresses, political party registration and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

    [Guessing some do not understand how easy it is to guess SSNs]

    [Note: It is the *LAST* 4 digits of your credit card that are hidden!]

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