Russian Interference, the Steve Bartman of U.S. Politics
On Tuesday, presidential son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner had left-leaning social media abuzz by downplaying the real-world fallout of Russia’s efforts in the 2016 elections. He characterized Kremlin-directed meddling as a “terrible thing” but also explained that “the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.”
When I ratified Kushner’s assessment on CNN’s broadcast with my colleague, host Chris Cuomo, I was met with guffaws and disbelief. But here is the reality: Russia’s intrusion was very unwelcome and decidedly illegal, but the wildly disproportionate reaction by anti-Trump operatives in both government and media has far eclipsed the damage wrought by a minor 2016 foreign intelligence scheme.
This totally unbalanced reaction represents the political equivalent to the Steve Bartman incident in Major League Baseball. In 2003, the Chicago Cubs led the National League Championship Series three games to two and had a 3-0 lead in game six at home, with one out in the eighth inning. A pop fly sailed foul but well within the left fielder’s reach. Lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman grabbed at the ball, as would many fans, interfering with Moises Alou’s attempted catch. Both players and fans massively overreacted, forcing Bartman to exit Wrigley Field with a security detail, but the kerfuffle would have been utterly forgotten had previously dependable Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez ended the inning moments later with a potential double play ground ball hit right to him. Instead, his rare error commenced an epic Cubs implosion that sent Chicago to defeat that night and in the ensuing NLCS game seven, vaulting the Marlins to the World Series.
As in politics, the point here is that the scapegoat, the Bartman, is not really to blame. Russians spending a whopping $100,000 on Facebook ads, per the Mueller Report, represents a miniscule rounding error compared to $81 million spent by the campaigns on Facebook within a presidential election where total direct and indirect spending reached into the billions of dollars.
In fact, the “resistance” narrative of a stolen election insults the key voters who turned the 2016 tide Donald Trump’s way in the unlikely GOP sweep of key states Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Those voters, many of whom had either not voted before or had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, did not rally to Trump because they were somehow duped by an inconsequential international interference operation. In reality, these voters were motivated by two things: They embraced the fighting, spirited agenda of a renegade Trump candidacy and they simultaneously rejected the arrogant, presuppositional pseudo-coronation of Hillary Clinton.
But rather than engage in even a scintilla of self-introspection regarding their wholesale misread of the American electorate, the mainstream media instead constructed a Potemkin Village narrative through the grand excuse that Russian interference caused this unacceptable electoral injustice. Instead of considering Hillary’s Alex Gonzalez-like error of completely ignoring Wisconsin, they deemed it much better to cast aspersions on Russia’s role, the convenient new Bartman-esque bogeyman.
As a citizen, I lament the damage such scapegoating inflicts upon our polity, but admittedly the partisan in me fully embraces the cognitive dissonance at play here. For example, during the Easter Monday Democratic townhalls on my news channel, CNN, viewers watched an almost comical cavalcade of grievance apologetics, culminating in a call for voting rights for the incarcerated concurrent with the evisceration of constitutionally enumerated gun rights for the law-abiders. Clearly, instead of learning any lessons from 2016, the Democrats and their willing media allies would rather blame an allegedly all-powerful external intervention. Instead of considering the myriad ways they themselves failed America, it’s much easier to just blame Russia, the new political Bartman.