RFK Jr. and Vaccines: What Counts as a Disqualifying "Red Line”? Plus: Montana Becomes First State to Ban TikTok
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Good evening. It's Thursday, May 18. Welcome to a new episode of System Update, our live nightly show that airs every Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern, exclusively here on Rumble, the free speech alternative to YouTube.
Tonight: Robert F. Kennedy Jr is – along with Marianne Williamson – mounting a primary challenge to the Democratic incumbent, President Joe Biden. Despite polls showing that without even launching a campaign, he already has close to 20% of Democratic voters supporting him, while Williamson has another 7% supporting her, Democratic officials and their media allies are attempting to wish this all way, just pretend that Biden has no primary challengers because the ones who are running against him are – for reasons nobody ever bothers to explain – too unserious and lacking in credibility for the Democratic Party to even deem them worthy of attention much less debate.
An interview conducted yesterday with RFK Jr on the online show “Breaking Point”, hosted by two excellent journalists, Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti attracted significant attention because of the exchange between Ball and RFK JR on the wall on his long-time well-studied skepticism about vaccines. Ball told RFK Jr that she not only disagreed with his views on vaccines – and pointed out correctly that a large number of Democratic voters share her opposition – but that she considered his vaccine skepticism to being a “red line”, meaning not just a source of disagreement for her, but something that she and many other Democratic voters would consider disqualifying in of itself without regard to any other views he might hold that she likes and agrees with and considers extremely important.
I've long been interested in, and I've often written about, the idea that once a politician adopts a view that is so disagreeable that it renders them completely off limits from consideration for support they almost get put into this camp of being crazy or a conspiracy theorist or people just too unhinged to even consider supporting, no matter how much agreement one might have with them. I first observed this dynamic in the 2012 election, when Barack Obama was running for reelection, on numerous policies the progressive wing of his party claimed to find morally abhorrent while the Republican primary field included longtime Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only major presidential candidate in history to advocate views on crucial issues, which progressives claimed to find of the utmost importance, such as Ron Paul's steadfast opposition to the drug war and policies of mass incarceration that accompanies it, as well as his career-long opposition to the abuses of the U.S. security state, all of which President Obama supported and even strengthened. And yet, when I repeatedly pointed this out, I was told by liberals and other Democrats that Ron Paul's opposition to abortion was a “red line” that rendered him completely off limits, no matter what other positions he held, no matter how noble his other views might be. But that never made sense to me and still does not. Why was Ron Paul's pro-life position a “red line” but Obama's support for the drug war or say his view that he had the right to assassinate American citizens using drones – all with no due process and extraordinary power, the embodiment of extremism and radicalism – why was that not a “red line”? How was that determined? It seems it is so often used as a pretext for justifying support for party leadership and especially the ideology of the establishment, often unwittingly. Given that the same argument has arisen in the context of RFK Jr's challenge to Biden to argue that RFK is off limits but Joe Biden, chief advocate of the war in Iraq, chief architect of the U.S. prison state, an ardent supporter of the drug war, that he, Joe Biden, is somehow not off limits, has not crossed any red lines. I think it's really worth exploring how certain politicians are declared disqualified and whose interests are served by this framework and specifically who gets called crazy in our political discourse and why.
Then: Montana's Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, today signed a bill effectively barring Montana citizens from using the social media app TikTok, owned by a Chinese company. Even if those citizens in his state have voluntarily chosen that platform as their preferred means for expressing their political views and seeking cultural and social communities.
I realize that there's so much anti-China sentiment in the U.S. right now, not only in parts of the American right but also the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, that virtually any measure, any new government power invoked or justified in the name of weakening or stopping China will be automatically supported from the start. But to me, the overarching lesson of the U.S. government's response to 9/11 in the form of the so-called War on Terror is that it is precisely in such moments when anger toward or fear of a perceived foreign threat is so high that sweeping new state powers are being demanded in its name – such as the right to ban social media apps – it's precisely that moment that we must be at our most vigilant – and our minds most skeptical and open – to the possibility that the new government power either does not really address the perceived threat in whose name it's being justified or the dangers of this new political power are greater, much greater than the threats posed by the foreign actor. It is in that spirit that we will examine the details of this new law banning TikTok in Montana, as well as the dangers it raises. Do we want government officials to have the power to ban social media apps they perceive to be “dangerous’? Do American adults, after hearing their asserted risks and dangers, have the right to decide for themselves which social media platforms they want to use for political expression and organizing?
I hope that before you lend your support to laws like this and other state powers seized in the name of fighting China – or fighting Russia or fighting Iran or fighting Al Qaida – you at least remain open to the possibility that the threats are being exaggerated to enhance state power at home or that the proposed new powers do not really accomplish what their proponents claim they will. This is an extraordinary new power. Many politicians are demanding the right to ban entire apps and social media platforms from specific states and even from the whole country and, as a result, it deserves not reflexive or emotional approval, but rather serious attention, scrutiny and critical thought. And that's what we intend to apply to this law.
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Ordinarily, tonight being Thursday night, we would have our Aftershow, on our Locals platform available only to subscribers but since we're still easing back into working after our hiatus due to a death in the family, we thought it best not to have our aftershow tonight, but we will be back Tuesday and Thursday of next week with our show after this one, at its regular time.
For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update starting right now.
Earlier this week, the Democratic primary challenger, Robert F. Kennedy Jr appeared on the online show “Breaking Point,” hosted by two very good journalists, Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. And I found this interview very illuminating for multiple reasons. It attracted a lot of attention, especially this segment that we will show you and break down in which Krystal Ball confronts RFK Jr about what she calls either his vaccine skepticism or his anti-vax sentiment. He does a good job of using the time she gave him to respond. And what I found very interesting about this interview was several things, including the fact that she told him she regards his views on vaccines to be not merely an issue with which she and many other Democratic voters strongly disagree. But for her, a “red line,” meaning that anyone who crosses into that territory specifically is one that she considers as essentially off-limits. It's a “red line.” Once you cross it, there's no coming back. And because this is a dynamic I have long noticed, starting with the 2012 presidential election, as I alluded to, between Barack Obama and Ron Paul, which I want to break down in terms of why that first attracted my attention, and the broader tactic, which I'm not saying Krystal invoked, but certainly is often invoked in the context of RFK, or Ron Paul, or people who are just a little bit outside of establishment thought of calling them crazy or declaring them too strange, too unhinged and too bizarre. It's a very common and potent tactic and I think it's one that you will find is only wielded by the establishment against critics of the establishment. In other words, establishment figures have all the space in the world to endorse the most deranged, the most unhinged, the craziest policies but as long as you're in alignment with establishment orthodoxy, you will never be declared crazy, no matter how crazy those ideas are. This is a tactic reserved only for those who question prevailing establishment orthodoxy and I think all of us are in a way vulnerable to it. It's a very potent and pervasive form of propaganda that requires our constant vigilance and if we let our guard down at all, we're all susceptible to being influenced by that – to think that person has taken a view that everyone just knows is wrong, everyone trustworthy and reliable and credible knows it's wrong, therefore, I just want to stay as far away from them as possible. I think analyzing how this tactic is wielded, and how it manifested here, is of the utmost importance.
Now, just a few cards on the table before I show you the parts of the interview and dissect it and connect it to other events. I consider both Krystal and Saagar Enjeti to be good friends of mine. I've appeared on that show many times. I have a lot of respect for their work. This is a case where I'm going to express some disagreements with Krystal's views, but it's not because I think she is a poor journalist or somebody ill-motivated. Quite the contrary. I think the fact that she is someone who is often very rigorous and scrupulous in trying to guard against establishment propaganda, nonetheless, in this case, used a tactic that is usually a tool of the establishment. “Breaking Point” is a show that has succeeded because it is anti-establishment, it is what makes it particularly worthwhile. If this had been Anderson Cooper or Joe Scarborough or Chris Hayes or any of those kinds of people, it would have been unworthy of analysis because that's what you expect from them. So, I think the fact that it came from an anti-establishment venue makes it all the more illustrative.
I also just want to note that we have been in contact with RFK Jr about appearing on the show. He's agreed to do so. We're just negotiating exactly the date on which he will appear. I hope to devote an entire show to him or most of our show to him, as we did with Marianne Williamson, as we did with Vivek Ramen Swami, like we intend to do with any of the presidential candidates who will come to our show. I'm definitely interested in talking to him, and we will be doing that very soon, although he's by far from a candidate that I support. He has all kinds of views with which I vehemently disagree, including his ardent support for most of the extremist expressions of Russiagate. So, he's clearly not my candidate. I'm nonetheless interested in this dynamic because of what it illustrates more broadly. It's a really perfect, vivid illustration of this tactic that I think deserves a lot of attention. It's often overlooked, and as I said, many of us ingest it almost reflexively.
So, let's go ahead and take a look at the first segment of this interview where vaccines were discussed. It's about ten minutes long. We're going to show you just a couple of segments and I'll comment on the parts that I think merit comment as we go along and kind of explain the framework that I want to explore with it.
(Video. “Breaking Point”. May 15, 2023)
Krystal Ball: […] about vaccines, is an area where you and I have significant differences. And just to level with you on this, like a lot of what you say I really respond to, I think you're a very genuine person. But across the board, whether you want to call it vaccine skepticism or anti-vax advocacy, which has been a central part of what you've been up to for the past number of years, for me personally, it's an issue and it's a real sort of “red line.” And I know I'm not alone in that, especially running in a Democratic primary. There are going to be other millions of people […].
Okay. So, there you heard what she said, that this is not just an issue with which she disagrees with him, but it's for her – and she surmises I think correctly – for a lot of other Democratic voters, a red line.
I don't want to place huge amounts of meaning in that phrase where it comes to Krystal because she's speaking here live and without a script and I know as well as anybody how sometimes you don't express yourself in the most precise way, that you use phrases or words that you wouldn't use if you were sitting and contemplating exactly what you wanted to say. But the fact that she did say it and you could kind of see the progression of her thought where she told him, “For me, your view of vaccines is very wrong, in fact, it's a red line” I think was very telling. She wanted to make the point that this is not just an ordinary disagreement she has with him. This is something that for her, despite all the other things he says that she says resonates with him, places him in this kind of different off-limits category. I've never heard her say that about Joe Biden. I believe she supported Joe Biden in the 2020 election, most definitely not in the primary. She, I believe, was a Bernie Sanders supporter, that's for sure. She did not support him in the primary, but certainly in the general election that was her preferred candidate. I have not heard her say that the positions Joe Biden has taken are a red line for her where she would never support him in a way she seems to be saying here for RFK Jr when it comes to vaccines. So that's part of what attracted my attention. Let's listen to the rest.
Krystal Ball: […] who, like me, have similar concerns. So, how do you win them over? What's your message to people who think like I do?
JFK, Jr.: But just tell me where you think I got it wrong.
Krystal Ball: Well, I think you get it wrong when you draw a correlation between the rise of things like autism and the introduction of vaccines when there isn't hard scientific evidence tying those things together.
JFK, Jr.: How do you know? Let me ask you this. How do you know there's a lot of hard scientific evidence?
Krystal Ball: Well, because the one major study that purported to show that was retracted and the scientist who conducted it was, you know, had a […]
JFK, Jr.: What you're doing [...]See AlsoFULL TRANSCRIPT: BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY CHAIRMAN & CEO WARREN BUFFETT SPEAKS WITH CNBC’S BECKY QUICK ON “SQUAWK BOX” TODAY
Krystal Ball: Basically, fraudulently created […]
JFK, Jr.: No, no, no.
Krystal Ball: Hold on. Hold on. I don't want to get in a debate with you about this because you've spent your life pulling out of this. I will tell you. Let me just tell you.
JFK, Jr.: […] and hundreds and […]
Krystal Ball: Let me just tell you, I've listened to hours of interviews with you with an open mind, and I'm not persuaded. Now, maybe I'm wrong. That's possible. I'll hold it out there. People can watch. I thought Megyn Kelly did a phenomenal interview with you that went through all these claims piece by piece by piece. I really encourage people to watch that whole exchange because we won't be able to do it justice here in the five minutes we have left. But there are going to be people like me who aren't persuaded and who see this as an issue. And the fact that it's been such a central part of your advocacy means I can't just sort of put it to the side and say, “I will just ignore this piece that's been really important to you and your life.” So, you're running in a Democratic primary. You have a lot of people who feel even more strongly than me who think that Dr. Fauci is a hero and all of these things. How are you going to persuade them? How are you going to reach them? And what is your message to them?
JFK, Jr.: Well, first of all, I'm leading with, you know, my opinions about vaccines. What I said to people is to show me where I got it wrong. Show me where I got my science wrong. I've written books about as you know; I wrote a book about a link between Arizona autism that has, I think, 450 distilled scientific studies confirm and validate that […]
All right. So, there's a lot going on there that I think is worthy of attention. So first of all, you can see that Krystal is explicitly acknowledging that she doesn't have the same level of information and knowledge, she hasn't devoted anywhere near the amount of time to this question as RFK, Jr. and for that reason, she's explicitly saying, I don't want to actually engage with you on the merits. She keeps trying to kind of switch the question to a political or punditry question of, well, look, right or wrong, there's a lot of Democratic voters out there who share my views, who think you're wrong on vaccines. How do you intend to persuade them? But he wants, rightly so, after having been accused of being wrong on vaccines, to hear from her, what the basis is for her view that he's wrong, He wants to engage the substantive debate – that's part of why he's running. And I think he goes on to say to her that he, after listening to her try and make the case, that she's parroting establishment outlets, that she's parroting what the health establishment and what health policy officials have just repeated over and over, to the point that I think even well-intentioned people like Krystal start absorbing it to be true. And this is what I think is such an important point.
I think in order to have a public platform where you opine strongly on vital issues, like whether the benefits of vaccines have been oversold, whether their harms and risks have been minimized and concealed, I really think you have an obligation to have that opinion be steeped in some very in-depth knowledge. I've tried very hard in my journalistic career never to opine publicly unless I feel I have that kind of basis of information. That's one of the reasons why I've always can find myself to a few issues out of time. One of my concerns with doing a show like this nightly and I talked about this a lot with my team was ‘How am I going to do a show where I have to talk every night about nine or ten or 12 issues where my knowledge about it is superficial?’ And so, one of the things we decided was we're not going to talk about nine or 12 issues every day. I'm not going to be obligated to opine politically, opine publicly or journalistically, or assert claims when I have just an ordinary level of knowledge, no deeper or more developed than the ordinary person who has a full-time job that requires them to work on nonpolitical issues. And so, if you're going to come and tell Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to his face that he's not only wrong when it comes to vaccine skepticism, but it's so wrong that it's crossed over this red line, then I do think you have the obligation to be prepared to engage on the merits and to construct an argument. She does go on to say, “Look, I may be wrong on this, this is something that I am open to being persuaded on, but I've listened to you and I haven't been persuaded.”
But she also says that she doesn't really have anywhere near the level of knowledge he has. He spent years working on this. Remember RFK, Jr. was for 20 years or so a very widely regarded environmental activist working on issues of harmful waste by corporations and toxic dumping. He's somebody who's a very serious person. He is not some extremist or marginalized figure who just emerged out of the blue and started, you know, for clicks or attention talking about vaccines. This is a very deeply developed view, which does not mean I agree with it. I don't have the knowledge to agree with it or not. But what I know is this: health officials in the United States and in the West were proven to be not just wrong, but dishonest, repeatedly, throughout the COVID vaccine. Starting with the very first week when Dr. Fauci received emphatic emails from some of the most well-regarded virologists and epidemiologists on the planet, telling him that they were very convinced that the novel coronavirus could not have emerged naturally or through species jumping, but almost certainly came from a lab in Wuhan that happened to be one that received funding from agencies supervised by Dr. Fauci. For obvious reasons, Dr. Fauci was highly motivated to destroy and crush any possibility that this pandemic came from risky research that he himself approved and funded and so, within a matter of a week, the entire establishment got on board with the view that he insisted they endorse – which was the notion that this came from another species and jumped species or evolved naturally was all but proven. While the possibility of a lab leak was debunked, we know that that was completely baseless at best to the point where for a year or so, Facebook and other social media companies barred anyone from questioning it. That's how powerful Dr. Fauci was, creating a false consensus. You couldn't even question what he was saying, let alone did you have people willing in public to say it was wrong. Only for the U.S. government itself to finally get to the point that they said they didn't know the origins of the coronavirus and that an investigation was needed, including considering the possibility of a lab leak. And now, as we know from the Wall Street Journal and other outlets, the most elite scientific units and teams in the Department of Energy and in the FBI believe that a lab leak from the Wuhan lab is not only plausible – something you weren't allowed to say as a result of Dr. Fauci – but is the most probable explanation for where the coronavirus came from. You certainly have other experts who dispute that but the debate is open. And yet Dr. Fauci, from the beginning, closed it. We also know that all kinds of claims about the Pfizer vaccine and other vaccines were false to the point of being just deceitful. There are famous clips of people they send to propagandize the public, Rachel Maddow and others, about Dr. Fauci himself saying that the vaccine prevents transmission, that, if you're vaccinated, you cannot contract or transmit the virus to others and then, two months later, we watched as millions of vaccinated people were contracting and transmitting the virus to other vaccinated people. Something that turned out to be a complete lie. And on and on and on and on.
So, whether I'm persuaded or not by what RFK, Jr. has to say about vaccines, both, generally, and when it comes to the COVID vaccine, I know for sure we benefit from having these questions debated. That's the reason the DNC wants to pretend RFK, Jr. doesn't exist. They're petrified of him for reminding Americans not only of how much we were deceived on almost every aspect of the COVID pandemic, including the vaccines, but how much damage that it has done from all the policies that we enacted based on these false claims, from school closings that have destroyed the social and intellectual development of huge numbers of our nation’s youth and youth around the world, to skyrocketing rates of depression and suicide and alcohol and drug abuse, which came from the harms of isolation and shutdowns and so many other things. So, at the very least, I think that if you have a public platform, you have a responsibility to encourage and cheer for and want to foster debate on these most critical questions, especially when it comes from highly informed people who are challenging and dissenting from establishment orthodoxy, especially on debates where they have been proven over and over to lie and to be proven wrong.
So, Krystal Ball has every right to insist that she disagrees with RFK’s skepticism on vaccines but I think if you're going to use your public platform to say that, as opposed to just believing that privately – which we all have to do, we all have to form opinions privately – but it's a big jump to say I'm going to use the privilege and the responsibility I have with my public platform to opine on issues that I really haven't done the work necessary to have a reliable opinion, then I think the only default position there is if you're going to comment on those issues without the sufficient knowledge, is to encourage skepticism, to say, I want to hear these debates. We need more transparency and more of a right to have these questions raised rather than telling somebody that they're not only wrong but so wrong that they've crossed a “red line” which is completely in alignment with what the DNC is trying to do, to say that both Marion Williams and RFK, Jr. don't even deserve to be heard, they don't even deserve to be considered primary opponents to Joe Biden. If you ask a DNC official, they'll say it's already done. Biden has no primary challenger; he's our nominee – without a single vote being cast, without any debate being held – precisely because their strategy is to encourage people to believe that RFK, Jr. is not just wrong, but so wrong that no matter how much else you might like him on other issues, such as his vehement opposition to the proxy war in Ukraine, that he shouldn't even be someone that you're willing to get near. He crossed a red line. This is the establishment tactic that I think Krystal Ball, in this case, and so many other people in so many other cases have, unwittingly and with good motives, propagated. It's almost subconscious. She believes this – I'm sure she's done the hours of work she said she did, but hours of work on a question this complex is nowhere near enough to opine that emphatically and to tell someone they're off limits, that they've crossed a red line. So, again, I don't think she did anything criminal or cataclysmic here. I think it's more illustrative of how this propaganda tactic functions, often implicitly.
Let me show you another example. This was from when Bari Weiss went on Joe Rogan's program. This is from January 2019. There was no Democratic primary, but it was heating up. There was a Republican challenger, Bill Weld, and a couple of others, but they never got anywhere near 20% in the polls like RFK, Jr. did. But there was a vibrant Democratic Party primary with Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and PeteButtigieg,Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson who was among those challengers. Bari Weiss had a discussion with Joe Rogan about these Democratic candidates and specifically about Tulsi Gabbard, whom I believe, unbeknownst to Bari Weiss, is someone that Joe Rogan really admired and still admires. I want you to watch what happened, the way Bari Weiss asserted claims, only to have it be clear that she had no basis for making them. She had just heard it so often that she just implicitly started believing it was true because it came from establishment voices. Watch this:
(Video. Joe Rogan Podcast. Jan. 21, 2019)
Bari Weiss: […] So we have Kamala, Kirsten Gillibrand […]
Joe Rogan: Tulsi Gabbard.
Bari Weiss: Oh…monstrous […]
Joe Rogan: Monstrous?
Bari Weiss: Ideas. Ideas.
Joe Rogan: Well, when she was […]
Joe Rogan inserted Tulsi Gabbard as Bari Weiss was listing the candidates. Listen to this again:
Bari Weiss: […] So we have Kamala, Kirsten Gillibrand […]
Joe Rogan: Tulsi Gabbard.
Bari Weiss: Oh…monstrous […]
Joe Rogan: Monstrous?
Bari Weiss: Ideas. Ideas.
Joe Rogan: Well, when she was 22, she had […]
Bari Weiss: No, she's an Assad toadie.
Joe Rogan: What does that mean “She is a toadie?”
Bari Weiss: I think that I used that word correctly. Jamie, can you check […]
Joe Rogan: Like toeing the line? Is that what it means?
Bari Weiss: (talking to Jamie) T, o, a, d, i, e. (To Rogan) I think it means […]
Joe Rogan: (shows search results from a screen) Toadie. Definition of toadies: “A person” […]
Bari Weiss: Sycophant.
Joe Rogan: […] “that flatters or defers to others for self-serving reasons.”
Bari Weiss: A sycophant.
Joe Rogan: So, she's an Assad sycophant. Is that what you're saying?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, that's... known about her.
“Are you saying Tulsi Gabbard is a sycophant to Bashar al-Assad?” “Yeah, right. Of course. I'm saying that. That's known. That's known about her.” I can't imagine making an accusation of that gravity on a very public and widely watched platform without having a single example I’m able to cite to substantiate that accusation and all I can say is, “Yeah, this is known. Everyone knows this.” Listen to this:
Joe Rogan: So, she's an Assad sycophant. [Is] that what you're saying?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, that's... known about her.
Joe Rogan: What did she say that qualifies her […]
Bari Weiss: I don't remember the details…
Joe Rogan: You probably shouldn’t say that – before we say that about – we should probably read it rather […]
Bari Weiss: Well, I have read it.
Joe Rogan: […] Oh, yeah. Okay. Just so we know what she said. […] Look, I really enjoyed talking to her. I like her a lot.
I find that remarkable. Again, I think Bari Weiss was well-intentioned there in the sense that she was saying something she believed to be true and had come to believe it because just enough people had said it, that in her brain a switch clicked and it just became gospel to her, something that you don't even need to bother anymore to debate. She was obviously extremely unprepared to debate that or even to raise a single thing Tulsi Gabbard had done that would justify accusing her of that. And I think it's very similar to what happened with Krystal Ball, though I think Krystal Ball was much more prepared to talk about RFK vaccine skepticism than Bari Wise was to talk about Tulsi Gabbard’s supposedly “toadie”-ness or serving someone for her own self-interest, dishonestly, to Bashar al Assad. But nonetheless, I think it's a very similar dynamic because as RFK, Jr. pointed out in the second half of the segment, we didn't show you – he said, I think what you're doing is parroting establishment voices. It was clear to me that was what she was doing. She definitely did some work, but nowhere near enough.
As I mentioned, this is a dynamic that I've been talking about for many years. And the thing that really led me to first start talking about it was in 2011, 2012, when Barack Obama was seeking reelection to his second term in office. I was a very vehement critic of Obama in many areas, particularly in his embrace of the exact war on terror policies instituted by George Bush and Dick Cheney and civil liberties assault in the name of the War on Terror. Then, Obama spent all of 2008 vowing to uproot. And not only did Obama continue those, but he also aggressively expanded them in some very radical and extremist ways. The left purported to be just as appalled by that as I was. This was during the time when my audience became filled with a lot of left-wing supporters because I was vehemently criticizing President Obama, not from a conservative or right-wing perspective, but from the perspective of civil liberties and my critique of his continuation of George Bush and Dick Cheney's most invasive and radical policies in the War on Terror.
That was something the left strongly believed in and there was a candidate running for president in 2012 who agreed with the left's critique about President Obama's civil liberties assault. His name was Ron Paul. And he not only agreed with the left on some pretty important issues like the War on Terror and civil liberties but also became a vehement opponent of the drug war, the idea that American adults should be put into prison if they choose to buy and consume narcotics the government has declared to be illegal, drugs that you're not allowed to use, even if, as an adult, you're completely informed of the risks and benefits and choose to use them. Not only are you prohibited, but you will go to jail for it. He argued that this led to mass incarceration, it was the main reason the U.S. imprisons more of its citizens than any other in the world by far – there was a racial component to it. Things the left adored. Yet, even the mere suggestion that Ron Paul's candidacy should be looked at and not necessarily one should vote for him or support him if one doesn't want to, but at least appreciate and celebrate and support the parts of his candidacy that were genuinely unique in a way that the left has a long claim to crave. That was one of my earliest, most violent breaches with the American left – when I started trying to argue that what Ron Paul is doing is something that should inspire them and whatever you want to say about Ron Paul and the issues on which you disagree with him, that at least is true for President Obama and yet the fact that President Obama had a “D” after his name and was the incumbent president, had the establishment on his side, whereas Ron Paul was always somebody who was kind of marginalized, considered a little crazy, not because of any personal behavior, which has always been upstanding in terms of his personal integrity and his conduct in office, but because of his views. He was immediately declared to have crossed red lines the way Krystal Ball said of RFK Jr the way don't see the way Bari Weiss said of Tulsi Gabbard.
Here you can see just a very common article from 2011 in The Washington Post. There you see the headline: “Call him a nut”. “Ron Paul: Call Him a Nut,” just like he's crazy. This is by their media critic, Erik Wemple. So, again, this is the same tactic. Ron Paul doesn't have views with which one disagrees. He's just crazy. Just call him a crazy person, an insane person, and be done with it.
The article I wrote in December 2011, in Salon, which, as I said, will probably, maybe, after my support for the majority opinion in Citizens United on free speech grounds, is probably – which is 2010. This is probably, at the time, the most abrupt and aggressive breach I had with the American left. “Progressives and the Ron Paul Fallacies.” There you see in the sub-headline: “The benefits of his candidacy are widely ignored, as are the Democrats’ own evils.”
So, it reminds me very much of the framework Krystal Ball had created. She is certainly not a supporter of Joe Biden but, at the end of the day, she will urge him to be elected. She will advocate for people to vote for him in a general election because, apparently, he hasn't crossed red lines, whereas RFK, Jr. has. This is the same issue for me when it came to President Obama and Ron Paul. So let me show you a couple of videos where Ron Paul said some things that were really extraordinary, that you would think the left would be supportive of and excited by.
Let's take a look at this video here, which is him talking about the effort by President Obama to use the CIA to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Listen to Ron Paul express his opposition to that policy:
(Video. May, 2011)
Ron Paul: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Plans, rumors and war propaganda for attacking Syria and disposing Assad has been around for many months. This past week, however, it was reported that the Pentagon indeed was finalizing plans to do just that. In my opinion, all the evidence to justify this attack is bogus. It is no more credible than the pretext given for the 2003 invasion of Iraq or for the 2011 attack on Libya. The total waste of those wars should cause us to pause before this all-out effort at occupation and regime change is initiated against Syria. There are no national security concerns that require such a foolish escalation of violence in the Middle East. There should be no doubt that our security interests are best served by completely staying out of the internal strife now raging in Syria.
Just to put this in the simplest terms, to this day, if you mention the name Ron Paul, not just the Democrats, but anyone who's inherent to the establishment would laugh at him, they'll treat him like a joke. He's crazy. He's just insane. As the Washington Post said, “just call him a nut.” And yet, Ron Paul, in 2002, was one of the most ardent opponents of the idea of invading Iraq. He made all kinds of predictions that proved prophetic and prescient. At the same time, Joe Biden – who no Democrat will say is crazy or off limits or has crossed a red line – was one of the most vocal advocates of the war in Iraq and because he was a Democrat – considered to have a lot of experience in foreign policy, he was the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at the time – you could really make the case that Joe Biden's support for Iraq, the war in Iraq, like Hillary Clinton's and like John Kerry's, was arguably the most important. He was the most important senator that enabled that war to happen, who led half the Democratic Senate caucus to vote in favor of the war in Iraq. Let's listen to him. In 2002, while he was cross-examining in a very hostile way, Scott Ritter, at the time a weapons inspector who was against the war in Iraq and was saying he was in Iraq, he was on the ground in Iraq, he vehemently believed Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction – so Ron Paul turned out to be right. Joe Biden turned out to be radically and disastrously wrong and yet, for some reason, Joe Biden is considered sane and on the right side of the red line, and Ron Paul is on the wrong side of it.
Let's put this video of Joe Biden in the Senate in 2002. Actually, this is a Senate hearing about the first war in Iraq. There are lots of clips, of course, of Joe Biden vehemently arguing for the war in Iraq. This is a video from 1988, he’s talking to Scott Ritter, but he's advocating regime change – all the way back in 1988, so three years before 9/11 – and then four years before that war was actually approved of. Listen to what Joe Biden said.
(Video. C-SPAN. 1998).
J. Biden: […] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me begin by saying, I think, Major, you have provided and are providing a very, very, very valuable service to your country by coming forward as you have, because, quite frankly, I think what you've done is you forced us to come to our milk here, all of us in the United States Congress. I think you and I believe and many of us believe here, as long as Saddam's at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root, and branch the entirety of Saddam's program relative to weapons of mass destruction and you and I both know and all of us here really know. And it's the thing we have to face that the only way we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we're going to end up having the started alone – started alone – and it's going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down. You know it and I know it. So, I think we should not kid ourselves here. There are stark, stark choices.
So, it is amazing. Biden was not just an advocate of the war in Iraq in 2002 when it was opposed, after 9/11. He was a very emphatic advocate of it, of regime change in Iraq and the need to take down Saddam Hussein before 9/11 even happened, back in 1998.
Why is Joe Biden considered sane and people like Ron Paul considered crazy and off-limits and insane when, on the most critical questions of our time, Joe Biden has been wrong over and over?
Let's look at Joe Biden and his support for the war in Libya – a war that, like the war in Syria, Obama waged to take out Bashar al-Assad – turned that country into a complete wreck of a country where anarchy of the worst kind thrived, where slave markets are turned, where ISIS returned, that created extreme amounts of instability, not just in that country, but a migrant crisis in Europe, one of the worst and most misguided interventions the United States has ever launched, Joe Biden – like the war in Iraq – was strongly in favor of that one as well. Let's go ahead and pull that up.
(Video. CNN. 2011.)
J. Biden: Libya, Gadhafi, one way or another, is gone. Whether he's alive or dead, he's gone. The people of Libya have gotten rid of a dictator of 40 years whom I personally knew. This is one tough, not-so-nice guy. And guess what? They got a chance now. But what happened in this case? America spent $2 billion total and didn't lose a single life. This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past.
So, I think this is somewhat of an elusive point. So, I just want to get at it in one more different way, which is the idea that the establishment in the United States uses a tactic of proclaiming you to be mentally unwell or somehow just completely radioactive simply by virtue of dissent to establishment orthodoxy. And even if it's establishment orthodoxy itself, that proves to be the crazy view, that proves to be the destructive view, that proves to be the deranged conspiratorial view, you will never be labeled crazy or off limits, or having crossed a red line, as long as you're in alignment with the establishment thought there is no limit to what you can do provided you remain on that side. This is a term and a tactic reserved only for those who dissent from it. That's why Joe Biden's never considered crazy or off limits for people like RFK, Jr. or Ron Paul.
I think the most vivid example is this one: from 2016 until 2019 – and we covered this on our show on Tuesday night when we talked about the Durham Report and its conclusions about the FBI's interference in our election by essentially collaborating with the Clinton campaign to create this false space investigation to link Trump to Russia – in the context that we discussed the fact that for three full years in the United States, the main political story that drowned our politics, that covered the front page of newspapers on a virtually daily basis that was constantly on television was Russiagate. The Russiagate scandal. The two key component parts were: the first, that the Trump campaign had criminally colluded or collaborated with the Russians to hack into the DNC emails and John Podesta's email – something we know from the Volcker investigation that closed without accusing a single American of that crime said there was no evidence for it – and now the German investigation concluding that the FBI never even had a basis to open an investigation into that in 2016. We know that that part was fraudulent. But the other part that was at least equally prominent came from the Steele Dossier. The Steele Dossier. It was one of the most insane and unhinged conspiracy theories imaginable. It really was the case that establishment figures in the media and politics for three straight years continuously went on television and to their pages and the op-ed columns and even gave themselves Pulitzers for it and constantly ratified the view that the Kremlin had seized control of the levers of American power by virtue of sexual, financial and other forms of personal blackmail held over the head of Donald Trump, that essentially they could force him to do the bidding of the Kremlin, even if it came at the expense of the United States. A conspiracy theory that, if you tried to submit it as a script in Hollywood, it would be too much even for them. It's preposterous. It's a joke. When you talk about wild, crazy conspiracy theories, that is the living, breathing embodiment of it. And no matter how often it was disproven because Trump acted against the most vital Russian interest when he sent lethal arms to Ukraine after President Obama refused to do so – a direct threat to Russia's vital interests – when Trump spent years trying to sabotage the most important economic project that Moscow has, which is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting it to Western Europe to allow it to sell cheap natural gas through Germany, no matter how many times Trump acted directly against Russian interests when he bombed Russian troops in Syria and threatened to bomb Russian troops even more and take out. Their main Russian ally, Bashar al-Assad, no matter how much he acted against Russian interests. This conspiracy theory continued. And yet, not a single person who propagated that crazy conspiracy theory would ever be called crazy or a conspiracy theorist or having crossed a red line because they were acting in servitude in captivity to establishment dogma and establishment interest. To this day, those of us who stood up and objected to that conspiracy theory being baseless are the ones called crazy and even called conspiracy theorists, because these terms really are just weapons and tools used to stigmatize anybody who challenges establishment thought. This is the point that I want to get at.
Let me just show you one last example of this because it happened not only to Ron Paul but also to his son, Rand Paul, when he became elected as senator from Kentucky. The exact same things are said about Rand Paul that were said about Ron Paul.
Here you see, from the New Republic, in May 2011, a headline: “Rand Paul is Really Crazy.” Rand Paul is Really Crazy – all but echoing The Washington Post’s similar story about his father – “Just call Ron Paul a nut”.
Conor Friedersdorf, who now writes at The Atlantic, wrote a really great article in Newsweek that examined the question of why Rand Paul could be deemed crazy. What was it about Rand Paul that allowed him to be called crazy by establishment figures in Washington media and politics who themselves endorse all sorts of objectively, inherently extremist and radical ideas? And the answer, of course, is because what “all crazy” really means in Washington is opposing establishment thought.
Here is Conor Friedersdorf’s article in Newsweek, in May 2010. The headline Is “Rand Paul Crazier Than Anyone Else in DC?” Let's look at the text of the article.
Rand Paul has plenty of beliefs that I regard as wacky, such as his naive, now withdrawn, assumption that markets would have obviated the need for certain provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Or his desire to return America to the gold standard.
Of course, I feel world-weary exasperation upon hearing every national politician speak – have you ever gotten through the election season television commercials without rolling your eyes? – but the media seem to reflexively treat some ideas and some candidates less seriously than others for no legitimate, objective reason.
Third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot was called a disparaging name so often that he tried to diffuse the situation with humor by dancing in public to Patsy Cline's rendition of the song “Crazy.” Rand Paul can't escape this treatment, even on Fox News, where an anchor called him a libertarian wacko. If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad, whom he designates as an enemy combatant? (Newsweek. May 24, 2010).
Just to remind you, the Obama administration adopted a theory that if an American citizen is abroad in a place that they deem lawless or out of the reach of American extradition, the United States government has the right – without charging that American citizen with a crime or giving them any due process – simply for the president to declare them an enemy combatant and then murder them by drones. And this wasn't just a theory that Obama asserted. It was a theory that he used in Yemen. For example, he sent drones to first kill the American-born, American citizen cleric al-Awlaki and then to kill his 16-year-old son in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki. And what kind of Friedersdorf is saying is, “if you think advocacy of the gold standard makes Rand Paul crazy, how is that any less crazy or crazier than a president of the United States claiming the power to assassinate without due process any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant?
Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants? (Newsweek. May 24, 2010).
And he goes on a bunch of other examples. He then concludes that essentially people who get called crazy in Washington are always people who dissent vigorously enough from establishment orthodoxy. I think maybe the correction that we need is not to stop calling people crazy, but to make sure that we include establishment figures in that. Because over the last six years, in particular, the establishment has gone utterly berserk. Joe Biden, if you look at it from a progressive perspective, has supported every policy that ought to be across the “red line” – from the Iraq war to the war in Libya to the war in Syria to funding the proxy war in Ukraine, endlessly and without limits to being the architect of the prison industrial complex, to be a virulent supporter of the drug war – and yet no one will call Joe Biden crazy. No one would call Mitch McConnell crazy, even though he supports almost every one of those same policies. Because if you're part of the establishment, you're inherently serious, you're inherently sane. Even if you're wrong, you're inherently credible. This is a tactic that appeared in Krystal Ball’s interview of RFK, Jr.; that appeared in Bari Weiss's commentary on Tulsi Gabbard; that appeared in all of these articles demanding we call Ron Paul and Rand Paul insane; that is designed to render dissidence to establishment thought intrinsically crazy. And it's one that I think a lot of us can adopt because we're constantly bombarded with claims from venues we've been conditioned to regard as inherently credible. And it leads us to believe all sorts of things that we haven't really critically evaluated and, as a result, to implicitly or reflexively regard as crazy or weird or off limits or on the other side of a “red line,” people who are questioning policies that themselves are often quite crazy but are deemed to be sacrosanct by virtue of the fact that it's the establishment that supports them. And so, I thought this interview with RFK, Jr., the treatment of RFK, Jr. and his candidacy, and the permission given for the DNC to basically pretend he doesn't exist, all illustrate this tactic. It's been one that is evident for decades and I think when you put it all together, it's one that we really need to work to be consciously aware of.
So right after this, we will be back. We will look at the new law in Montana that bans TikTok and hope to apply the same critical faculties I was just talking about to this new law and other measures being demanded in the name of stopping China. We'll be right back after this.
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In the last segment, I talked about a lot of policies that were enacted in the name of the War on Terror and fighting al-Qaida that, by all objective measures, should be deemed not just radical and extremist, but really quite just crazy, just unhinged. One of the lessons I learned from those years of reporting, in fact, probably, the overarching lesson, is that one of the most dangerous ways that governments extract power from its citizenry is to convince that citizenry that they face such a monumental threat, such a grave fear, usually from foreign sources, from foreign actors, that they need to capitulate to government demands for increasingly greater powers, including from powers previously thought out of any conceivable possibility. That was the story of the Patriot Act. We've covered that history several times on this show. Within literally days after 9/11, while the rubble and the corpses beneath it had not yet been cleared from the streets of Manhattan, there was legislation designed to enable the United States government to spy not just on foreign nationals, but American citizens, in ways previously unthinkable to radically reduce the evidentiary burdens that government has to meet in order to spy, in order for the CIA and the FBI to share information about American citizens. At the time, even as proponents acknowledged it was an extremist and radical bill, a fundamental change to the American system of government, to the values that we've always embraced for the limitations required for the government to operate in a way that protects our basic rights. And yet the Patriot Act passed easily despite those realities overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate. Anyone who even breathed a word of dissent against the Patriot Act was instantly accused of either not taking seriously the threat posed by al-Qaida and Islamic radicalism, or usually and worse, being on the side of al-Qaida, being pro-terrorist simply for questioning anything the government demanded in the name of al-Qaida.
As I said, I was someone who lived in Manhattan and worked in Manhattan and was in Manhattan on 9/11. I remember how traumatizing that attack was. I remember it took me, I think, two weeks, and I went to a movie and I realized in the middle of the movie that for about 10 minutes I wasn't thinking about the attack – for the first time since it happened. It was genuinely a traumatizing attack. Very shortly after that, came the Anthrax attacks, which for a lot of Americans, I believe, escalated those risks even further. We're going to devote a show very soon, perhaps tomorrow night, or in the upcoming week, about the Anthrax attacks and the impact it had on American perceptions about threats that we face, but also the still very significant lingering questions about how that Anthrax attack was launched on American soil, who really launched it and for what ends. I genuinely believe, as do a lot of mainstream scientists and even mainstream news outlets – they don't talk about it anymore but they did at the time – that the FBI's version of events for how the Anthrax attack happened stretched credibility to a breaking point that we don't really know the full story, but it sheds a lot of light on things like how our government manipulates and weaponizes viruses and other biological weapons in our labs, in Chinese labs. So, we're going to devote an entire show to remembering that history. I think a lot of you are probably too young to remember it, to have lived through it, but the lesson that I got from all of that is that once the perception of fear or anger toward a foreign power is high enough, the population is basically conditioned to accept anything and everything the government demands in the name of combating that threat.
Right now, the threat that Americans regard as the gravest and the most serious is no longer al-Qaida or ISIS; it's not the Russians – unless you work for MSNBC and the Washington Post op-ed page – It's not Iran. It's China. I think there is a consensus growing certainly within the establishment wings of both parties – and even the populist right in the Republican Party – that China is the single greatest threat that the United States faces. At some point, we're going to delve deeply into the question of whether that's an accurate perception but for the moment, I want you to just assume that it is.
So, let's assume that whether you think of China as some kind of an enemy with which we need to go to war or some kind of a very serious, formidable competitor that will likely require decades of a new Cold War of funding the intelligence agencies, of spending more and more money on weapons and deploying fleets and military units in that part of the world and confront China in every conceivable way, even if you're right about that, it still is the case that we are all vulnerable to having that concern, that fear, that anger toward China exploited for the government to seize more powers by telling you that those powers are necessary to combat the threat from Beijing and that you need not worry about these new powers because the government is only here to help you and protect you and keep you safe from the Chinese Communist Party. This absolutely becomes an argument we're hearing more and more in Washington in ways that I think people are finally starting to realize can be very dangerous in itself.
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