Jill Stein. (D. Ross Cameron/AP)
Editorial Writer

Looks like President Trump isn’t the only one who has to cry “no puppet.” A controversial CNN interview Tuesday morning saw Jill Stein repeating what some called a Russian talking point on election interference: “We do it, too.”

The two-time Green Party presidential candidate made her remarks as she defended her campaign’s refusal to hand over to congressional intelligence committees documents covering “internal discussions” that she says are protected by the Constitution. Detractors and defenders leaped immediately into action, the former accusing Stein of being little better than a Russian agent and the latter bemoaning the media’s propagandistic repression of dissenting voices.

The back-and-forth underscores a current that has rippled through this year’s Russia intrigue. The further left you go, the more skepticism about the obsession over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and Congress’s concomitant investigations you’ll find. The problem is, playing down the Russia story doesn’t actually serve the interests of the fringe left any more than it does the center’s.

Many of Stein’s supporters, and some of Bernie Sanders’s, too, see a series of reasons to be wary of the Russia fervor. First, there’s the argument that mainstream Democrats have seized on the collusion narrative as an excuse for Hillary Clinton’s loss — that it’s a helpful distraction from the imperative that the party develop a strategy to win working-class voters and inspire the disaffected in 2020. Then, there’s the charge of neo-McCarthyism. The “resistance” so fears Russia and communism, according to this line of thinking, that it wants to root out alternative views on the left.

Finally, there’s the hypocrisy critique that Stein brought to the airwaves this week. Russia’s malevolence in 2016 was really nothing new, partisans say. Not only do governments across the globe try to swing elections abroad, they say, but the United States is an egregious offender. And as for the Trump team’s involvement, they ask, who didn’t know that the lobbyist class was a collection of domestic scum under the thumbs of foreign scum?

Buried beneath the folderol, these ideas raise important points. It’s irresponsible to spend every day hand-wringing over Russia and no time at all soul-searching about where progressive politics need to go for a left-leaning coalition to reclaim the White House. The Cold War’s lasting chill scares the older generation away from anything that sounds like socialism, even when — as with single-payer health care — a policy has promise on its own merits. The United States has meddled in foreign elections, though its worst days are behind it (and Stein’s version of the story creates a troubling false equivalency). And powers such as Russia have so much sway here at home precisely because Americans aplenty have weighed themselves down with foreign funds a la former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

It’s dispiriting to see reasonable interventions into traditional Democratic thinking warped into wackiness. The Jill Steins of the world take cogent concepts and corrupt them to ignore the Russia investigations writ large, and to pretend that there’s nothing unusual about top aides on a presidential campaign actively abetting an antagonistic power’s attempts to take down an opponent.

The smarter route, for Americans all along the left side of the spectrum, is to embrace the Russia investigation. Not only could it hold accountable those who sought to disrupt democracy, but it could also lay bare what the far left sees as realities that existed long before Donald Trump descended his escalator — ones their contingent wants more than anyone to change.

For years, the left has sought a greater focus on our government’s attempts to influence who leads other countries. They’ve cried out about white-collar crime that leaves high-rolling campaign underwriters open to manipulation by nefarious interests. They’ve scorned the rule of tech titans whose systems allowed the Russians to hijack more than 100 million of our computer screens.

And all the while, they’ve lamented the refusal of their centrist cousins to confront these topics. The Russia investigation brings every one to the fore. Why try to shove it onto the back burner?