Deconstructing the Deceptive Attacks on Tulsi Gabbard
During the second round of the Democratic presidential debates, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard levied a surprise attack on Senator Kamala Harris’s record, from her time as the Attorney General of California. Gabbard specifically shed light on the 1,500 people that were locked away for marijuana-related offenses under her watch, extending prisoners’ sentences so that they could be forcefully used as cheap labor to fight wildfires, and blocking DNA evidence that might have exonerated a man who’d been on Death Row for fifteen years.
The overwhelming tone of the internet’s response to this attack has been in support of Tulsi Gabbard. Many have pointed out that someone needed to call out Kamala eventually, and that she didn’t have a direct response to Gabbard’s comments, neither during nor after the debate.
The hashtag #KamalaGotDestroyed started trending very shortly afterward, but many stewards of the status quo started to weigh in with critiques of their own. These attacks, however, were founded in deeply deceptive tactics. Let’s take a look.
Wajahat Ali, a NYT and CNN contributor with a very extensive journalistic acumen, had this to say:
Now, here’s the thing. Wajahat is acting as if “the Russian bots” are a factual aspect of our existence, programmed entities that have sprung into action, right now, with the expressed purpose of supporting Tulsi Gabbard and causing race-based chaos in the political discourse surrounding Kamala Harris. But there is ZERO evidence to substantiate this claim! He’s peddling a conspiracy theory he just made up in his own head.
This kind of deceptive messaging results in two, very harmful consequences, whether they are intended or not:
One: it fuels the false notion that every Tulsi Gabbard supporter out there is aligned with these fabled, non-existent “Russian bots” and that both of these groups are working towards the same ends. This means, that in Wajahat’s universe, you simply cannot be both a Gabbard supporter and a true patriot, much less a participant in your own democracy. Because if you do support her, you’re simply carrying out the Kremlin’s plans. How then, can we reconcile the fact that, at the time of writing, Tulsi has 128,403 unique donors? Are they all Russian operatives? Or is a writer for the New York Times simply talking out of his ass?
This baseless claim, which is founded upon an unproven conspiracy theory, is specifically intended to delegitimize anyone who wants to vote for or advocate on behalf of Tulsi’s candidacy for President of the United States, without any tangible critiques of her actual policy positions.
And two: it associates valid criticism and debate about Kamala’s record and policy initiatives with “racial discord”, which is meant to suck the air out of any legitimate pushback against her. If you have doubts about Kamala’s progressivism or whether she will truly fight for drug legalization, well you better keep those to yourself unless you want to be accused of sowing racial discord. Even if you’re blind and have no idea what she looks like.
Exhibit B: another baseless accusation. If Tulsi were a Russian asset, pieced together in a secret lab deep in the frozen and forgotten tundras of Siberia, you’d think that as a Major in the Army National Guard, the military would have figured that out by now. They have more than exhaustive background checks. But no, instead we’re expected to believe that political commentators with lazy, poorly thought-out hot takes can identify double-agents working for the Kremlin. I guess what gave it away was the fact that Tulsi has a legitimately progressive platform, which can’t be said about too many of the others on that stage.
Joy Reid takes us along for another ride here, one that leads inevitably to the relentless, the-horse-is-deader-than-dead, “Assad apologist” smear. And a smear it most certainly is. All over Twitter, commentators have been repeating the specific claim that Tulsi Gabbard refuses to criticize Bashar Al-Assad and his handling of the Syrian Civil War through the use of chemical weapons. However, Gabbard has criticized Assad, calling him a brutal dictator and confirming his use of chemical weapons. She even did it again today on CNN.
What these pundits are missing, is that Tulsi is criticizing typical imperialist narratives, the ones which hoist up the U.S. as a global moral authority. And these narratives are invariably used to push, directly and indirectly, illegal and unethical regime-change operations. Just like in Afghanistan (a war in which we’ve been embroiled for nearly two decades), Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, and Yemen. These campaigns have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and squandering of trillions of dollars, while people go hungry in the streets of the United States. Ending these costly wars should be at or near the top of any Democrat’s platform, yet Tulsi is the only one.
This is at the core of Tulsi’s foreign policy. She’s not defending Bashar Al-Assad at all, nor is she his apologist. Because to be someone’s apologist, you have to defend them, and there is zero evidence that Tulsi Gabbard has ever defended Assad’s actions. She is simply arguing against citing his criminal actions as justification for yet another costly war.
And then there’s this juvenile jab, straight from Kamal Harris’s very own National Press Secretary.
What Didn’t Gabbard Say?
A crucial criticism that Tulsi Gabbard could have made against Kamala Harris, but didn’t, would have been to bring up her relationship with Steven Mnuchin. Despite Kamala’s “tough on crime” rhetoric, she was given the opportunity to prosecute OneWest Bank, his former employer, for its role in illegal home foreclosures in 2013, but didn’t. This is despite the fact that her DA’s office discovered over one thousand related violations, and predicted that further investigation would uncover even more. Steve is currently serving as Trump’s Secretary of Treasury.
Why Do People Support Tulsi Gabbard?
Apart from the “Russian bot” smears, there are deeply legitimate reasons why Tulsi Gabbard appeals to her supporters. They support her because she’s fearless and is an outsider, and because she’s the only candidate taking on the wanton militarism of the United States.
If you want to stop the drone strikes which disproportionately kill innocent civilians in your name, you vote for Tulsi. If you want to bring home the four billion dollars per month the government spends on the war in Afghanistan, you vote for Tulsi. If you want to free Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and pardon Edward Snowden, you vote for Tulsi. Because there is no other candidate out there who will.
Whatever you may think of either Kamala Harris or Tulsi Gabbard, there is simply no evidence that the latter is a “Trojan horse”, working on behalf of the Russian government. In our current age of hyped-up disinformation, it’s more important than ever to stick to the facts, even when examining a politician with whom you disagree.