“But is it helpful to have the 2016 nominee suggesting that a congresswoman is a Russian asset?”
– Jake Tapper
Yes and no.
Yes it’s helpful; it’s a marvelous distraction. Clinton’s bizarre accusation draws criticism away from some of the more egregious flaws in the present nomination process. It was also timed perfectly to coincide with the release of a State Department report that criticized the former Secretary of State over her unsecured email server. Rather than discussing the 38 people that will face disciplinary action as a result of complying improperly with her policies, or perhaps the rather more salient fact that none of those 38 is her, we’re instead focusing on a surreal sound byte from an obscure podcast, a third-string candidate, and the revived spectre of Russian campaign meddling in 2016.
And, as Buttigieg made quite clear in his response to Tapper’s query, it’s extremely unhelpful. In a one-on-one session that was supposed to be about his campaign and policy, it’s not at all pleasant to be forced to pick sides in a mud fight between a competitor and a highly respected elder stateswoman. After ninety seconds of dancing about, the candidate neatly sidestepped the entire issue by refocusing on the battle against Trump:
“…Our focus right now needs to be on the things that are actually undermining America. I mean, right now we are being told to, quote, get over it when it comes to the mixing of domestic politics and foreign affairs. And the big issue today is not even whether this is happening; it is clear that it is happening. Even Republicans are being forced to admit that it is happening. The question is will we or will we not ‘get over it’.”
As Tapper said, that was an amazing pivot by Mayor Pete. Commentaries in the Daily Caller and a dozen other places echo the sentiment, that Buttigieg steadfastly refused to answer the question. Thing is, I think his critics are missing his message — which isn’t surprising; it’s not exactly plain here. You’ve got to consider the rest of his quote as well:
“See, the problem with corruption is, it can happen anywhere. The places where it takes root are the places where people accept it. And the biggest question before the American people right now is: Will we or will we not ‘get over it’?“
Oh, if only he’d stopped there. Because that statement is absolutely right, and it answers Tapper’s question. Clinton attempted to bury a major embarrassment by using an outrageous statement in a bait-and-switch worthy of Donald Trump, vilifying political foes in an egregiously offensive personal attack. It’s on the rest of us to decide whether or not to let her get away with it.
That could have been Mayor Pete’s defining moment, a grand place for a courageous stand in defense of truth and decency, and against the entrenched corruption that so often is his party’s worst enemy. Alas, then he picked sides:
“That part is emanating not from anyone in the Democratic Party but from the White House.”
Buttigieg has made his choice.