Monday, October 24, 2016

It's hard to defend yourself by admitting that you're a hack

Lawyers, Guns & Money blogger Robert Farley writes that the Sanders campaign invited him to publish some messaging hitting Clinton on Libya. At first he was inclined to do so, since he substantively agreed with the critique:
I had serious reservations about the role that Clinton played in the decision to intervene in Libya...I have long believed that the US political conversation needs sophisticated, robust voices on the left; not "liberals who like blowing stuff up," but rather leftists who are knowledgeable of and engaged with the major debates on US national security. 
But then, he explains, he began to think of Hillary:
I wrote the article, which I submitted to the National Interest...[but] they never published...I thought about publishing here at LGM, but had qualms about posting what amounted to an attack on the likely Democratic nominee...My reticence to engage came wholly and purely from concern that something I wrote would become a hit piece against the likely Democratic nominee.
So far, the message here strikes me as pretty simple: Farley is a writer who doesn't necessarily say what he believes. He may, for example, have significant objections to Clinton's foreign policy - but if it seems like this could hurt her chances in the general election, he won't actually voice them. Ultimately his goal is not to write what is true and correct, but to elect Hillary Clinton to the White House.

As admissions of partisanship go, this is fine. But oddly enough, Farley admits all of this en route to another argument:
In short, the Sanders campaign attempted to win an election by making an active effort to publicly...develop a narrative, and to push that narrative forward in the media. This is called politics. I do wish that folks weren't so committed to pretending that Hillary Clinton invented politics, or that the practice of politics is somehow dirty.
What I find striking here is that, after admitting that he discarded substantive criticism because politics, Farley now wants us to treat him like a reliable narrator making an honest and credible defense of Hillary Clinton. How do we know that he's telling the whole story about the Libya article, having just admitted that he's willing to withhold information about it for the sake of political expedience? If he wants us to think of him as a Peter Daouesque operative whose first and only loyalty is to winning the election, that's fine - that's politics. But clearly Farley also wants us to think of him as some kind of minimally disinterested truth-teller, and that's where his conclusion runs into problems:
THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH ANY OF THIS. It violated no meaningful norms or ethical standards, and invoke[s] no specific moral qualms. 
The basic moral qualm I have when I see Farley do this is that I think he's being dishonest. On one hand, he's pleading that he's just an amoral political actor, entitled to say whatever it takes to guarantee whatever political outcome he wants - but on the other hand, he wants us to think that he's not doing that, and that we can rely on him to be fair and honest. This, of course, is the same convenient ambiguity that the writers named in the Wikileaks correspondence are dealing in, which is why the people who thought of them as disinterested, independent voices feel understandably deceived.