I feel like we sort of choked.
Those are the words of "a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia," quoted in this massive piece
by the Washington Post's Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous, detailing the timeline of discoveries of the means and extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and the subsequent responses of the Obama administration, the intelligence community, and Congressional leaders.
After reading the entirety of the piece, which I highly recommend, it's hard to disagree with that official's assessment.
This passage in particular is haunting me: "To some, Obama's determination to avoid politicizing the Russia issue had the opposite effect: It meant that he allowed politics to shape his administration's response to what some believed should have been treated purely as a national security threat."
It haunts me for two reasons:
1. Although I had criticisms of Obama's presidency, I never felt—never
—like I could not implicitly trust him on national security. I always felt confident that we could trust him to protect us. So to find out that we couldn't, and that the reason
we couldn't is because he was afraid of accusations of partisanship, is really shaking me.
2. As longtime readers will no doubt recall, my biggest hesitation about Obama during the 2008 election was that I feared he did not take seriously enough the intransigence of Congressional Republicans. I had strong reservations about his emphasis on bipartisanship and worried that the Republicans would use it against him. It's really fucking something that my greatest fear about Obama may turn out to be the very thing that got us into the mess in which we now find ourselves.
Make no mistake: I am powerfully angry at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and all his party compatriots, for abandoning all pretense of patriotism and threatening President Obama with accusations of partisanship, when he appealed to them to publicly disclose Russian meddling ahead of the election, when voters absolutely should have been made aware of that information.
I am angry at the leaders of intelligence agencies who dragged their feet, and who didn't connect the dots they should have. I have particular contempt for (no surprise) James Comey, who "initially agreed to attach his name [to the administration's first public comment on Russia's 'active measures'] officials said, but changed his mind at the last minute, saying that it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved."
That was on October 7, three weeks
before he sent his letter about the Clinton email investigation
to Congress. So a month before the election was "too close" for the FBI to make a statement about foreign meddling that was being orchestrated on behalf of one of the candidates, but 11 days was not
too close for the FBI to make a public statement about an investigation of the other candidate. Cool.
I do not singularly hold accountable Obama, by any means. But he was the president, and it was ultimately his call, and I don't think he made the right one — even as I want to stress, again
, that I understand how difficult a decision it was, especially without the benefit of hindsight.
Charles P. Pierce writes on this subject
It's at moments like this that I wish he'd never given that speech in Boston in 2004. It froze him into a public persona and a political stance that made even justifiable partisan politics look like base hypocrisy. It is entirely possible that, at what we must now believe was a critical moment (if not the critical moment) of his presidency, the better angels of a president's nature were the voices he should have avoided at all cost.
The interference of Russia in our election, and our reaction thereto, is a complex (and still unfolding) story. It is also a very uncomplicated story of simply not doing enough when we should have.
And the why
of that failure is partly because of miscalculated priorities — avoiding the appearance of partisanship over protecting national security at any cost — but is also partly because of a pernicious cultural narrative we have about Strong Women.
We celebrate Strong Women for overcoming the horrendous barricades we put in their way, and we do so by dehumanizing them as superhumans and heroines. We imagine that they don't need any help, even when they're women who talk about how each of us needs a village to succeed.
Others will surely disagree with me, but I think this single line might be the most important of the entire WaPo piece: "The assumption that Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency."
That's the problem, right there.
The Obama administration assumed that Clinton would win, even in the middle of unprecedented foreign meddling into the election with the explicit purpose of undermining her campaign.
Clinton had absolutely earned a magnificent amount of confidence from her president, her party, and the electorate — but the assumption that she would win, in spite of Russians doing everything they could to ensure she wouldn't, while the Republicans and large parts of the political media were doing precisely the same, is not reasonable confidence. That's abandonment
justified with precisely the dehumanizing narrative of the Strong Woman, who is meant to be uniquely impervious to oppositional forces, no matter how harmful.
Clinton needed help to win (the electoral college and thus the presidency). She needed her village.
But her village didn't step up. They just assumed that she would single-handedly take care of demolishing all the incredibly powerful forces that were conspiring to derail her.
And then they used that assumption to justify doing nothing.
When Hillary Clinton returned to her alma mater to deliver the commencement address last month, she said
: "You know, our culture often celebrates people who appear to go it alone. But the truth is that's not how life works. Anything worth doing takes a village."
Surely that includes protecting the sovereignty of this nation and its democratic institutions.