The Democrats ‘rotate the villain’ strategy

Gina Haspel, a person with an infamous history or torture in the CIA, has been nominated to head that agency. Glenn Greenwald writes that it should be an easy call for Democrats to oppose her nomination and help kill it. But that may not happen because there will may well be a few defectors who vote with Republicans to confirm her.

Greenwald says that if this does happen, it will be part of a familiar pattern. While the Democratic party talks a good game about human and civil rights and other issues that are popular with its supporters, many in leadership positions are big fans of the national security state and the oligarchy and they do not want to harm them. Don’t forget that Obama’s CIA director John Brennan and director of National Intelligence James Clapper support Haspel. So how to reconcile that contradiction? He says that they adopt a ‘rotate the villain’ strategy where for each such critical issue, there always seem to be a few people who buck the party line. Greenwald quotes an earlier post of his.

The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation. They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it. One minute, it’s Jay Rockefeller as the Prime Villain leading the way in protecting Bush surveillance programs and demanding telecom immunity; the next minute, it’s Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer joining hands and “breaking with their party” to ensure Michael Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney General; then it’s Big Bad Joe Lieberman single-handedly blocking Medicare expansion; then it’s Blanche Lincoln and Jim Webb joining with Lindsey Graham to support the de-funding of civilian trials for Terrorists; and now that they can’t blame Lieberman or Ben Nelson any longer on health care (since they don’t need 60 votes), Jay Rockefeller voluntarily returns to the Villain Role, stepping up to put an end to the pretend-movement among Senate Democrats to enact the public option via reconciliation.

We should not think that this is done explicitly in secret discussions. These kinds of things are done with a nod and a wink, letting people know that a defection would not have any repercussions or receive strong condemnations from party leadership. That is how the game is played at high levels.

So let’s not get our hopes up that all the Democrats will oppose Haspel. The question is which Democrat will step up to the plate this time and take one for the team by being the designated villain.


  1. says

    Any DA could just slap handcuffs on her any time. I guess she’s a good candidate because they can eliminate her any time by just dropping a word.

  2. DonDueed says

    Good call, Mano. This time it’s Joe Manchin of West Virginia who got the nod and wink.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Carl Hiaasen years ago described a similar process among the seven members of the awesomely corrupt Miami-Dade City Commission, perennially riven (like most of Florida) in battles between developers and environmentalists.

    According to Hiaasen, a developer with a big enough project to need Commission approval sends agents to four selected Commissioners, promising whatever makes each of them happiest; the ones left out of the deal then shout fiercely in defense of Mother Nature, but accept the will of the majority when voted down. The next developer with the next controversial project does the same, with a somewhat different set of Commissioners but identical results. Each of the seven knows their roles -- those not approached by the bagpersons get to go all out in establishing their enviro cred, securely aware that their turn at the trough will come in time.

    As you-know-whom likes to tweet, “NO COLLUSION!!”

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