No, I’m not playing the ‘six degrees of Adolf Hitler’ game

July 7, 2014
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

Last Thursday, Michael Goldfarb, the head of the Center for American Freedom, which publishes the Washington Free Beacon, tweeted the following accusation:

In that tweet Goldfarb links to an Alana Goodman story in the Free Beacon concerning a conference that the American Prospect (TAP) and the American Conservative (TAC) co-sponsored, entitled “The New Internationalism.”  I was on a panel about threats and responses, chaired by TAC’s Daniel Larison and featuring TAP’s Matthew Duss and TAC’sWilliam Lind.  As Goodman noted in her story, Lind has co-written some unsavory things and spoken at some unsavory conferences.

Goldfarb has demanded that I apologize for the stage-sharing business.  Having taken the long Independence Day weekend to read Goodman’s story and mull it over, I have a response:

Actually, I’ll go further — I’m publicly asking Goldfarb to contritely apologize to me for his slanderous tweet.

See, what’s truly impressive about Goldfarb’s original accusation is that, once you follow the links, you discover that almost every part of his statement is false. Duss and I shared a stage with Lind; absolutely nothing else in that tweet is factually accurate.

First, although Lind might hold many objectionable views, denying the Holocaust is not one of them. Indeed, he explicitly told Holocaust deniers in 2002: “I do want to make it clear for the foundation and myself that we are not among those who question whether the Holocaust occurred.” That’s a pretty definitive statement, and it comes straight from a link in Goodman’s story.

Second, neither Duss nor I had met Lind before walking onto the stage. I didn’t know Lind was going to be on the panel until two minutes before it started.  In our session, he didn’t say anything that rose to the level of the more controversial things Goodman cites in her story. He did make some rather odd pronouncements, but if you watch the video of the panel, it’s clear that I disagreed with Lind . . . to the point of explicitly calling his argument a “crock” about an hour into the conversation.

So no, he wasn’t a personal friend. Goldfarb distorted a partial quote from Duss in Goodman’s story and misinterpreted it to suit his own ends (Goldfarb partly recanted this point when pushed on Twitter, while still trying to slime Duss with the accusation).

Third, the conference wasn’t an antiwar event, but rather an effort to expand the foreign policy conversation beyond the set of strategies proffered by, well, hawks such as Michael Goldfarb. I suppose Goldfarb’s relentlessly pro-war, pro-McCarthyite beliefs could lead him to believe that anyone who disagrees with him must be antiwar, but given that I spoke about the utility of military deterrence during my panel and didn’t get roundly booed, I suspect this is an exaggeration as well.  Indeed, there was nary a pacifist at the conference.

In later tweets, Goldfarb doubled down on his claim that Lind was a Holocaust denier despite his reporter’s documentation stating otherwise. Which leads to a few questions: Was Goldfarb simply too lazy to read Goodman’s story/read through to her source material/care about the actual facts, or did he knowingly lie in an effort to smear Duss and me? Based on my prior reading of Goldfarb’s work, as well as other reporting about his techniques, I strongly suspect it’s the former. Indeed, it is possible that Goldfarb is the exemplar for Harry Frankfurt’s thesis that there is, in fact, something worse than lying — there’s simply not caring all that much about the truth one way or the other. So long as Goldfarb can get someone he dislikes within the orbit of a despicable statement, he can wave the banner of “Mission Accomplished” in successfully besmirching his target.  This is part and parcel of the conservative movement’s comparative advantage in trolling.

Alas, poor Goldfarb, there are still limits to the “Six Degrees of Adolf Hitler” game. I think publicly disagreeing with Lind undercuts the “I lent legitimacy to his unstated views by appearing on a panel with him” logic. There probably are some people who possess views so odious that I wouldn’t even appear with them on a panel. Lind approaches those borderlands with some of his statements — but, as a category, paleoconservatives like him don’t cross them.

Sharing the stage and publicly disagreeing with someone who has made objectionable statements in an objectionable venue should not disqualify one for public discourse, at least not in the country that was founded on this document and this document. For example, if I were asked to share a stage with Goldfarb, I’d actually consider it — provided that he first apologize for tendentiously and repeatedly smearing me with a grossly inaccurate statement.

I look forward to Goldfarb’s apology — but I seriously doubt I’m going to get it.

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Kelly A. Barrett · July 7, 2014