Last week I published a piece called “Lying for A Living: Is Valerie Plame Qualified for Public Office?” If you click the link, you’ll see the blog mirrored on Daily Kos, which describes itself as “a site for Democrats.” (I guess my votes qualify me, but I’m not writing this to defend the DNC’s idea of electoral strategy, that’s for certain.) I’m directing you to that page rather than my own website, Medium, or Tikkun Daily (where my blog also appears) because I want you to see the comments that essay elicited.
Plame, to recap, is running for Congress in my northern New Mexico district. She came to public notice in 2003 by being outed as a covert CIA officer; and again in 2017 for a series of repugnant antisemitic tweets. My original essay explains why I am disturbed by her candidacy and why she is not qualified to hold public office.
I learned a lot from commenters on Daily Kos. The lessons are food for thought that shouldn’t stop with a single candidacy. They raise the question of whether an “informed electorate” (deemed a democratic necessity by the author of the Declaration of Independence) is even possible. Here are a few that seem worth sharing.
Quite a few Democrats have no bone to pick with the CIA. Understanding that every nation has some type of intelligence-gathering agency, I have no desire to argue here against the existence of a U.S. secret service. That would be truly pointless. But having a secret service is one thing; allowing it free rein to engage in “enhanced interrogation,” “extraordinary rendition,” illegal experiments, and assassinations galore is quite another. (Read the original essay for more information.) I was surprised to see how many Democrats are happy to put the agency’s misdeeds to the side in favor of gratitude for protection from our enemies, for instance:
I’m not going to deny the obvious that the CIA has done some odious things but that says more about the political leadership of the country than it does the organization itself, which is made up of dedicated, everyday Americans who work hard to provide us with the information we need to protect our country.
Plame’s work—and that of her recruited assets—was in the field of wmd proliferation and acquisition, concentrating on Iran, I believe….
Plame worked on nuclear proliferation issues. She had no involvement with rendition or torture. What she was doing was extraordinarily important. In fact, I’d wager that, if you knew the things that she does you’d get a lot less sleep at night.
These commenters’ sources are evidently Plame’s own claims in her talks and writings after being forced out of the CIA. As linked in my previous essay, while she did some work on weapons proliferation, reliable sources say her main role at the CIA was performed under the deepest cover, recruiting agents who went on to do various things for the agency. She had no control over their assignments, and there is no way to suggest—let alone prove—that they stuck to the “clean” jobs she claimed as her own.
That error aside, these commenters seem to believe that the problem of weapons of mass destruction is solved by blocking other countries whose missiles are pointed at the U.S. They appear to think that the CIA’s role in protecting the U.S. justifies—or at least lessens the shameful magnitude of—well-documented CIA human rights violations made in our name (here’s the list I linked in the original essay).
But judged solely on documented facts, that role focuses more on defending the U.S.’s right to corner the arms market than to defend ordinary people from aggressors. I wonder if these commenters are aware that the U.S. is the world’s number one exporter of arms (near one-third of all arms exports), and that our biggest client is Saudi Arabia (indeed, sales to the Saudis were recently fast-tracked by the White House), despite being exposed as themselves using American-made weapons on civilians and transferring such weapons to groups like Al Qaeda. If the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is really a concern, clearly the solution starts at home. Forty-two U.S. companies appear on the list of top 100 arms sellers worldwide. It’s not hard to defend the proposition that we are our own biggest threat.
Framing is everything, or nearly so. According to Merriam-Webster, a whistleblower is…
an employee who brings wrongdoing by an employer or other employees to the attention of a government or law enforcement agency and who is commonly vested by statute with rights and remedies for retaliation.
In the hope of righting serious wrongs, whistleblowers voluntarily reveal hidden wrongdoing to responsible parties (such as elected officials in the case of publicly funded misconduct), law enforcement agencies, or if all that fails, the media. Often, they take great risks. For blowing the whistle on government conduct concerning the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg was charged with multiple counts of theft and conspiracy. Had he not been acquitted, his sentence could have totaled 115 years.
From David Corn’s reporting and other accounts, it appears that Plame would not have left the CIA if she hadn’t been outed, nor did she publicly expose CIA wrongdoing while in the agency’s employ. So she can’t be compared with whistleblowers who made principled choices to repent of their own roles in wrongdoing and risk the possible cost of speaking out. That feels like an important distinction to me, but it seems to be lost on those who commented on my earlier essay. I have to conclude this is because Plame keeps framing herself as a kind of whistle-blower. Possibly a good campaign tactic, but hardly the truth. It seems framing equals truth for more Democrats than I imagined.
The nature of some counter-arguments really took me aback. I am usually the person at the table who speaks up to challenge assertions undermining the intelligence of ordinary voters. Everyone has reasons for their choices. The fact that they differ from mine isn’t a verdict on their mental capacity. But my certainty was shaken by the commenters who condemned my skepticism about a dedicated covert agent of a champion human rights violator being entrusted with the defense of my civil liberties and yours. It was asserted that my opposition to Plame meant I must also be opposed to the candidacy of an actor, completely missing the difference between pretending in plain sight, everyone in on the game, and deceiving:
So you are clearly against anyone who was an actor ever running for office? After all, their whole career is based on lying for a living.
In 2012, I blogged about a remark Van Jones made at a protest in Wisconsin that impressed me as going to the heart of our political troubles:
On Saturday, someone who heard Jones address a Scott Walker recall rally in Wisconsin tweeted this quote from Jones’ remarks: “Don’t adapt to absurdity.” He was making the point that over time, even what seems preposterous becomes normalized. We adjust to the new normal, simply because we can. The flexibility that is one of humanity’s best qualities, allowing us to adapt and advance, works against us, enhancing the glow of inevitability political operatives slather onto champion hypocrites like Walker.
“Lying for A Living” expressed an opinion. Everyone else has the right to do the same. But if you are going to disagree with the facts as a particular writer understands them, is it too much to hope you will live into the imperative of an informed electorate: investigate, analyze, find more than a feeling to go on? I hope not. More than an election depends on it.
“There Must Be A Better World Somewhere” performed by B.B. King and the late lamented Dr. John.