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Saturday, June 24, 2017


The art of growing a spine

by Tom Sullivan

The Obama administration received an "eyes only" CIA report last August that the Russian hacking attacks were far much more extensive than the DNC and Guccifer 2.0 episodes already known to the public. A bombshell report yesterday from the Washington Post claims the report "drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government ... detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race." The reporting is based on the accounts of over three dozen current and former senior officials from the White House, the State and Defense Departments, U.S. intelligence services and other agencies. Because of the sensitivity of these matters, most spoke only on condition of anonymity. The report makes clear that second-guessing at the highest levels of the Obama administration and political concerns by the leadership of both major parties in the midst of a presidential campaign quashed a more decisive response:

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.
It is a stunning and lengthy report you simply must read.

Over at the Post's Plum Line blog, Paul Waldman highlights how Democrats' timidity in dealing with the crisis helped elect Donald Trump. Granted, in August no one expected Trump to win:
What comes through again and again is that the Obama administration was terrified of looking partisan or doing anything that might seem like it was putting a thumb on the scale of the election, and the result was paralysis. This is a manifestation of what some years ago I began calling the Audacity Gap.
I've been doing riffs on this for years, but none this clean.
Democrats are forever worried about whether they might be criticized, whether Republicans will be mean to them, whether they might look as though they’re being partisan, and whether they might be subjected to a round of stern editorials. Republicans, on the other hand, just don’t care. What they’re worried about is winning, and they don’t let the kinds of criticism that frightens Democrats impede them. It makes Republicans the party of “Yes we can,” while Democrats are the party of “Maybe we shouldn’t.”
I've watched older (older than me anyway), local Democratic leaders second guess themselves this way for years instead of taking bold action, "But what will the Republicans do [to us] if we...?" "If we do that, we'll be handing Republicans a campaign issue," etc. And don't get me started on how Republicans made Sen. Dick Durbin cry in the Senate during George W. Bush's term. Democrats behave like abused spouses then wonder why voters won't elect them.

Even if they vote for them at the local and state level, voters often will not vote for Democrats when national security is on the line because Americans at heart want leaders, doers not thinkers. They want candidates they can trust to fight for them, not arbitrate for them. People who will take a stand, not negotiate a compromise (even though that is how much in representative government gets done).

Democrats' greatest weakness is they need people to like them, and they are easily hurt if people don't. Republicans know this. So they deploy their patented hissy fits regularly to get Democrats to back down, just as Waldman writes. Anat Shenker Osorio wrote, "Democrats rely on polling to take the temperature; Republicans use polling to change it."

Much as I hate to admit it, this quote from Margaret Thatcher captures that even more succinctly: "Don't follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you." That's leadership.

Last November 8th's debacle wasn't caused by this thing or that, but by what Lemony Snicket would call a series of unfortunate events. This week, this awful week is the outcome of that. Until Democrats stop cowering and start leading, they'll be stuck following.

Update: Edited for clarity.