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Kavanaugh’s Rant and the Old Republican “Tu Solus” Trick — by Don Lazere

BY DON LAZERE

In his rant that was the defining moment of his confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh charged that he was the victim of a political “hit” orchestrated not only by vengeful Clinton Democrats but by millions in “dark money” spent by “outside special interests.” (He didn’t speak the name George Soros, but the multitudes of right wing conspiracy theorists were quick to. See Paul Waldman, “The Real Purpose of the ‘Paid Protester’ Lie,” Washington Post, Oct 9,  2018.)

No one in the media, or even Democrats, bothered (or were allowed?) to question his use of the phrase “dark money,” which implies secrecy, when the opponents organizing and raising money against him had been anything but secret or “outside.” Most depressingly, no one posed the glaring question to him of what special interests were organizing for and financing him (overtly or secretly), and how much they have spent.

I am sickened to death by the perfection by this Republican ruse of “tu quoque” (or “tu solus”—only you) on every occasion to project onto liberals/leftists every legitimate charge against themselves, and by the failure of both the Democrats and mainstream media to do minimal fact-checking to debunk this demagogy.  I wrote a chapter titled “Right-Wing Deconstruction: Mimicry and False Equivalencies” in my book Why Higher Education SHOULD Have a Leftist Bias researching the kinds and amounts of “dark money” spent by Soros (and debunking the spurious allegations of Soros’ villainy, starting with his having been a Nazi collaborator) compared to the Koch Brothers.

The best broad analysis I have seen of this trick was by Thomas Frank in the chapter “Mimesis” in Pity the Billionaire, which invokes the children’s rhyme “I’m rubber, you’re glue/Whatever you throw bounces off  me and sticks to you.”

And a trenchant commentary on the same pattern was written by journalist David Brock in his Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, confessing to having been deluded as a self-described “right-wing hit man”: “I unconsciously projected onto liberals what I knew and saw and learned of the right wing’s operations.”

Gae Lyn Henderson wrote a good DD post about this a few weeks ago and Gerri McNenny wrote about this yesterday. But can we maybe think further about devising possible ways of putting this issue on the agenda of mainstream politics and media (in addition to incorporating it in our teaching and scholarship)? Could we issue some kind of press releases or op eds addressed to targeted MSM? From my misguided younger history working in journalism and publicity, I know that this kind of direct communication with specific media can be effective. We could at the same promote awareness of DD as a resource for media.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll also repost on DD my golden oldy “Ground Rules for Polemicists,” which also attempted to curb such rhetorical double standards.

Post Script,

I devised the term “tu solus” instead of “tu quoque” because tu quoque amounts to “everybody does it, so why shouldn’t we,” or “fighting fire with fire,” or “Oh yeah?– you’re one too.”  More often, however, today’s conservatives pretend that only liberals/Democrats/leftists use “dark money,” hire demonstrators, etc.  They assume their “base” has never heard (or remembered) these allegations against conservatives/Republicans, so they have the force of originality.  (Incidentally, the definitive source here is Jane Mayer’s Dark MoneyThe Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.  I think Mayer is the best investigative journalist around, going back to her and Jill Abramson’s Savage Justice, which nailed Clarence Thomas as a perjurer, and up to her current exposés with Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker.
Also a propos of this conservative ploy, a forthright formulation of it was expressed in a 2003 blog by David Horowitz.  Horowitz, an  ex-Communist mentor to Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, and Ben Shapiro, wrote:
I encourage [fellow Republicans] to use the language that the left has deployed so effectively to advance its agendas, Radical professors have created a ‘hostile learning environment’ for conservative students. There is a lack of ‘intellectual diversity’ on college faculties and in academic classrooms. The conservative viewpoint is ‘underrepresented’ in the curriculum and on the reading lists. The university should be an ‘inclusive’ and intellectually ‘diverse’ community.”
Conservatives similarly ridicule phrases like “right-wing propaganda machine” as exactly the same kind of loony conspiracy theory that the left claims to find on the right. They further mimic each of the epithets liberals apply to conservatives, turning them into the “left-wing propaganda machine,” “the Democratic noise machine” [directly snitched from David Brock’s The Republican Noise Machine], and so on.
It’s all reminiscent of a line from Jonathan Swift:  “Everything spiritual and valuable has a gross, revolting parody that looks exactly like it.  Only unremitting discrimination can distinguish between them.”  How’s that for a daily epigraph for the DD?

1 thought on “Kavanaugh’s Rant and the Old Republican “Tu Solus” Trick — by Don Lazere”

  1. Don, you make a good point about how the Democrats and the press shamefully failed to point out the Republicans’ hypocrisy about the use of dark money in this Supreme Court nomination circus. For example, one dark-money outfit, called the “Judicial Crisis Network,” alone spent more than $5 million on TV ads supporting Kavanaugh. (That outfit, by the way, is funded almost entirely by a single anonymous billionaire and is led by a former top aide to none other than Clarence Thomas!)

    But why put quotation marks around the term “dark money”? Ever since the 2010 Citizens United ruling “dark money” been a standard term of art referring to political contributions disguised as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” donations and thus hidden from public view. Jane Mayer even uses it as the title of her best-selling 2016 book.

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