April 10, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
What Barr & Berniebros Have in Common
They're not as far apart as you think.
In yesterday’s edition of the Editorial Board, I told you not to worry (too much) about the so-called Berniebros. These are the loudest, most extreme supporters of the Vermont senator, some of whom have huge platforms. Unlike Sanders, they oppose Joe Biden, the next Democratic nominee. Some have said they’ll vote for Donald Trump.
I told you not to worry (too much), because they won’t have the influence they had in 2016. Voters behave differently when there’s an incumbent. Democratic voters are in no mood for soul-searching. They won’t have to wrestle with their ambivalence for Hillary Clinton. It’s doubtful, I think, that Berniebros can crack Democratic unity.
If Bill Barr’s gross negligence is not treasonous, it’s certainly an impeachable violation of the US Constitution.
However, the question of whether they have any influence, or much of any influence, is separate from the question I want to ask in today’s edition. Who’s side are they on? I don’t mean whether they are on Biden’s side or the president’s. I don’t mean whether they are voting Democratic or Republican? I mean the most fundamental of loyalties.
Let’s put the question in a context. The attorney general of the United States appeared on Fox News last night. He said the investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election, headed by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was “without any basis.” The inquiry, which jailed many of the president’s former aides and revealed the extent of the Kremlin’s secret cyberwar, was an effort “to sabotage the presidency” of Donald Trump. Barr added that it was “one of the greatest travesties in American history.”
Barr pretty much forfeited whatever remaining credibility he has. But even this could be interpreted as ordinary election-year pablum. Barr could be trying to rally the base or give fence-sitting Republicans, dismayed by the president’s complicity in foreign espionage, a reason to come home. It wasn’t Trump; it was agents of the “Deep State” scheming to ruin his tenure. You’re still a good American if you vote for Trump.
Then Barr said something else. He said China posed a “larger threat” to the United States than Russia. China, he said, is mounting a “full-court blitzkrieg” against us.
In fairness to Barr, China is a problem. But China did not wage cyberwarfare against us. China did not try to move American public opinion against the Democratic nominee. China did not conspire with Wikileaks and (apparently) former Republican members of the US Congress. Perhaps China will this year, but that does not detract from the fact that every US intelligence agency has told the Congress for four years that Russia has been and continues undermining the public’s faith in the republic.
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If it’s laughable (and it is) that China is a “larger threat” than Russia, why would the attorney general of the United States, the man in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI, contravene the collective assessment of the entire intelligence community? For that matter, why would he suggest that Robert Mueller—a decorated combat veteran who rebuilt the FBI after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a registered Republican—conspired with insurgents to harm Trump and injure the United States?
Perhaps there are many answers, but here’s one that rings true to me. Barr does not want us to pay attention to Russia, or understand fully the havoc it wrought last time around. That way, Vladimir Putin’s agents can repeat their past success. At the very least, the nation’s top law enforcement officer seems guilty of gross negligence, which, if it isn’t treason, is a disgusting and impeachable violation of the US Constitution.
The left has always struggled with Russia’s 2016 meddling, because it ran afoul of its narrative about Hillary Clinton. She and everything she represents—particularly the neoliberal international order—is why Trump won, not Russia. My guess is most leftists have come around, accepting the truth’s nuance and complexity, but nuance and complexity are bad for business when your business is attacking Democrats.
Berniebros seem willing to rationalize as necessary the republic’s slow dissolution at the hands of leaders appearing in league with our former Cold War enemy.
It’s important to sort out who I’m talking about. I’m not talking about socialists, real or imagined. I’m not talking about social democrats or people who are just sick and tired of politics as usual. I’m not talking about leftists deeply concerned, or genuinely skeptical, of American adventurism abroad. I’m talking about Berniebros, what I have called the Loud Leftists, people so anti-American they will burn everything down, because burning everything down, they believe, will hasten the coming revolution.
It’s important also to note that these fellow travelers have historical antecedents. The arch-conservatives of the 1970s, towering figures like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol who defined, along with William Buckley, conservatism for two generations, were former leftists. Some of them, like Ronald Radosh and Whitaker Chambers, were so-called red-diaper babies and card-carrying members of the Communist Party USA.
Unlike the Berniebros, Podhoretz and others were fiercely loyal to America, so much so they were willing to overlook, or rationalize as necessary, atrocities committed by the US for the purpose of containing the “Communist contagion.” Unlike Podhoretz and the others, the Berniebros are fiercely disloyal to America, so much so they are willing to overlook, or rationalize as necessary, the republic’s slow dissolution at the hands of government leaders appearing in league with our former Cold War enemy.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.