The Skeptics

Why Democrats Are Obsessed with Russia

The issue of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has intensified an already deep and bitter partisan divide. Democrats and the broader progressive community argue that a hostile nation worked to defeat Hillary Clinton and install a president that Moscow could influence, perhaps even control. Those allegations have become increasingly shrill and over-the-top. In the process, they have chilled debate on U.S. policy toward Russia and created an atmosphere of intolerance and guilt-by-association disturbingly reminiscent of the McCarthy era in the 1950.

It is astonishing how outlandish some of the comments have become. A recent example was the speculation that MSNBC contributor John Heilemann engaged in when Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sought to make public the memo that the committee majority approved about possible FBI abuses during its investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Heilemann asked Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy: “Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House Intel Committee on the Republican side?” It was the second time that Heilemann raised that absurd notion on air.

Other progressives have wildly exaggerated the supposed Russian threat to America’s security and domestic liberty. During the 2016 campaign itself, Clinton asserted that Donald Trump would be “Putin’s puppet.” The accusations have grown wilder and more inflammatory since then, as Democrats hype the dangers that Russia’s apparent election meddling posed. During a March 2017 House Homeland Security Committee session, Democrat Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman accused Russia of engaging in outright warfare against the United States. “I think this attack that we’ve experienced is a form of war, a form of war on our fundamental democratic principles.”

She was hardly unique in using such hyperbole. During House Intelligence Committee hearings that same month, several of Coleman’s Democratic colleagues made similar alarmist statements. Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier insisted that Russia’s activities were indeed “an act of war.” Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell echoed that assertion. Citing the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other targets, Swalwell stated: “We were attacked by Russia,” and that attack “was ordered by Vladimir Putin.” Democrat Rep. Denny Heck explicitly compared Russia’s actions to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Worries about Russia, he insisted, had nothing to do about politics. Instead, “this is about patriotism . . . this is about country, and the very heart of what this country is built on, which is open, free, trusted elections.”

Such threat inflation is not confined to House members. Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, similarly described the election meddling as an “attack” and likened it to a “political Pearl Harbor.” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders asserts that “Russia’s attack on our democracy is of enormous consequence.”

As Clinton’s smear of Trump and Heilemann’s attack on Nunes illustrate, the progressive hysteria about Russia dovetails into impugning the integrity of anyone who disputes the narrative that Russia poses an existential threat to America and its democratic system. Sanders epitomizes the technique with his Twitter comment that “we need to know whether the president’s foreign policy serves the best interests of our country or the best interests of Russia.”