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Friday, December 23, 2016


James Comey and the Democrats' outrage gap

by Tom Sullivan

One of the biggest challenges the left faces in opposing a Trump administration is its own lack of message discipline. A second is the finely tuned conservative outrage machine, a tea (party) kettle always simmering and ready to whistle at the finest tweak of a knob. The latter seems to have played a part in FBI Director James Comey's October surprise.

The Washington Post reports backstory on the release of his letter to Congress that the agency had found new emails that “appear to be pertinent" to the closed Hillary Clinton investigation. Fear of right-wing outrage influenced the decisions of both Comey and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. In releasing the his letter about emails associated with Clinton aide Huma Abedin, the Washington Post reports:

Battered by Republican lawmakers during a hearing that summer, Comey feared he would come under further attack if word leaked about the Clinton case picking up again.
And prior to knowing if there was any there there:
He also began wrestling with whether to notify lawmakers. He worried that getting a warrant would alert more people to the probe, increasing the chances of a leak to the media. He feared a huge outcry if anyone learned the FBI was again investigating Clinton’s emails without informing Congress. Comey would later privately tell lawmakers that he was “stuck in a really bad place.”

FBI officials contacted career prosecutors who had worked the Clinton email case to ask what they thought about sending the letter. Don’t do it, they advised.
Paul Waldman picks up there:
So why did Comey do it? "Battered by Republican lawmakers during a hearing that summer, Comey feared he would come under further attack if word leaked about the Clinton case picking up again." He was afraid of the Republican outrage machine. What would they accuse him of? What names would they call him? What vitriol would he have to endure? Whatever he imagined, the thought was too much to bear.

And Loretta Lynch, who is Comey's boss, could have ordered him to adhere to departmental policy and refrain from injecting himself into the presidential campaign in such an inflammatory way. But she didn't. Why? "Lynch and her advisers were nervous about how it would look if people found out that she, a Democratic presidential appointee, told Comey to keep secret from Congress a new development in the Clinton investigation." In other words, she too feared the outrage machine. And the result was that Donald Trump will be president of the United States.
Leading Democrats have broken into tears from actual right-wing hissy fits. Leaders of the Justice Department now shy at the thought of them. Thank you, Mr. Skinner. This is not what voters think leaders of a super power look like.

Lynch had been damaged by the appearance of impropriety of her tarmac tête-à-tête in Phoenix with former president Clinton. She weathered the concomitant right-wing outrage, but had not formally recused herself from the investigation into his wife's emails. Bill Clinton, a lawyer, should have known better. Donald Trump, a real estate developer, won't, and his advisers won't tell him otherwise. When appearances of impropriety occur during a Trump administration, there will be no outrage. (You heard it here first.)

Waldman turns up the contrast:
Try to imagine something like Benghazi happening during a Republican administration with a Democratic Congress. Would Democrats have had the single-mindedness to undertake not one, not two, but eight separate congressional investigations of it, long after everyone understood that though the events were tragic, there was no official malfeasance? Not on your life. And when Republicans give them cause for outrage, with cases like their refusal to allow President Obama to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat, Democrats express their disapproval, complain that norms are being violated, and then pretty soon move on to other things.
I shouted at the computer Wednesday night during NC governor-elect Roy Cooper's press conference held after a special legislative session called to repeal HB2 failed to do so. Cooper kept saying he was "disappointed." No, you're angry. BE. ANGRY.

After Wednesday's legislative debacle in North Carolina, a left-coast friend expressed frustration at the NCGOP's insistence that "They (Dems) just can't be trusted." With poker faces Republican spokespersons insist it was Democrats who scuttled the repeal deal (the one Republicans reneged on). There is little pushback from the left and none is forthcoming. The Republican narrative will fix itself in the public consciousness. Until Democrats can generate, sustain, and channel a little outrage of their own, or else develop a disciplined approach to thwarting the right's, they will be outmaneuvered. It's asymmetric warfare. The left is unprepared to win it.

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