tulsi gabbard fourth debate democrats 2019
© CNN
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks at the fourth Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio
Thank goodness she didn't boycott the Ohio debate

It was never especially plausible that Tulsi Gabbard would follow through on her threat to boycott last night's presidential debate. Too much campaign energy and resources have flowed into ensuring that she secured a spot on the corporate TV stage, which is a sordid but unavoidable aspect of the modern primary process. But in her first comments, she spelled out the reasons why such a boycott would in theory have been absolutely warranted. The two media co-sponsors, CNN and the New York Times, had just spent the past several days attacking her with a level of brazenness that was shocking even to those well-accustomed to the regularity with which she is smeared by journalistic antagonists.

The NYT released a bottom-of-the-barrel hit-job on Saturday, regurgitating the entire litany of bogus talking points marshaled against her over the course of the campaign — Russian apologist, Assad apologist, friend to white nationalists, naive isolationist, cult member — with the obligatory David Duke reference thrown in for good measure. This has all been aired before, but it was packaged together by the NYT in the cheapest, sleaziest form imaginable. The unsubtle subtext is always that Tulsi has some nefarious hidden motive, and couldn't possibly be running on an earnest commitment to the principles she espouses. Her campaign refused to comply with the NYT's requests for the article, and rightly so. They did comply with a previous NYT profile, written by Nellie Bowles (romantic partner of Bari Weiss, FYI) which of course turned out to be a slightly more stylized version of the same smears. So the NYT just decided to dispense with any pretensions and go with a full-on gory takedown.

CNN is generally of the same disposition toward Tulsi (undisguised contempt) and that reached a new peak Tuesday, the day of the debate, when Democratic operative and 'analyst' Bakari Sellers proclaimed with total self-satisfied certitude that she is a 'puppet for the Russian government'. His esteemed co-panelists had neither the knowledge or interest to meaningfully interrogate the charge, which of course is grotesque nonsense.


As such, that's the context in which Tulsi's threat to boycott the debate was perfectly valid — but it's better to be there than not. So she took the opportunity to point out how despicable the CNN/NYT attacks were and segue into a broader indictment of the entire political/media class for the ongoing debacle in Syria, in which they have been collectively complicit for years. They might prefer to pin sole blame for recent developments on Trump — Tulsi was also unsparing in maligning him for his role — but Tulsi correctly widened the indictment to include the entire bipartisan war-marking apparatus and its loyal media cheerleaders. They pushed one narrative of the conflict — the US was funding and arming 'good guys' in the form of 'moderate rebels' seeking to overthrow Assad — that turned out to be spectacularly wrong, seeing as those same 'rebels' are now being denounced by US officials for taking part in the massacre of Kurds.

Pundits swooning over the newly petulant Mayor Pete celebrated his subsequent exchange with Tulsi on the subject, in which he chastised her for correctly identifying regime change as the fundamental motive for US military operations in the country. Biden joined in on the rebuttal, although less coherently. 'With regard to regime change in Syria, that has not been the policy,' lectured Biden. He must have forgotten the repeated injunctions he made as Vice President that 'Assad must go' which was the official policy of the administration he loves to remind everyone he served so loyally in. Biden's forgetfulness is not unique to this issue but it's one of the most discreditable examples of his sad incapacitation.

Tulsi attempted to use some of the meager time she was allotted by the corporate debate masters to pose Elizabeth Warren a question that would seem quite important but rarely gets raised with the vaunted 'front-runner'. What is her expertise on foreign affairs? She seldom addresses the subject, which is curious considering foreign affairs is the one issue area over which the president has near-unilateral authority. Immediately as Tulsi pressed her on it, CNN determined it was the perfect time for a commercial break.

The foreign policy discussion in general lapsed into a demented netherworld, with candidates competing amongst one another for who could be the most crazily belligerent toward Russia. Beto O'Rourke said Russia 'invaded' the United States, which sounds like a pretty big deal and it's strange that this invasion hasn't been reported on yet. Did they send a fleet of aircraft carriers and infantries to occupy Virginia Beach, and we missed it? Amy Klobuchar almost looked on the verge of tears as she fumed about Putin's destruction of American democracy. The very first issue raised at the start of the debate was what else but the Mueller report, by Warren. The long-term insidious effects of this Russia paranoia were easily predictable, and last night put the consequences on full display.

On a less grim note, Bernie Sanders emerged from his heart attack with an even keener ability to fillet Joe Biden, so that's a positive.