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The Inept McCarthyite


Russ Feingold was one of the more gutting losses in 2016. And the fact that he was beaten by Ron Johnson — the ultimate corporate empty suit — should give pause to people who see the elections as a revolt against neoliberalism.

Anyway, Johnson’s attempts to carry on the traditions of one of his predecessors have definitely been a “the second time as farce” kind of thing:

Last month, Ron Johnson learned that the phrase “secret society” appeared in a text message that one FBI employee sent to another FBI employee — and that the latter G-man had both worked on the bureau’s Russia investigation and (privately) expressed a negative opinion of Donald Trump in 2016.

From these facts, the Wisconsin senator concluded that we were witnessing the “corruption of the highest levels of the FBI,” telling Fox News, “The secret society — we have an informant talking about a group that was holding secret meetings off-site.”

Less than 48 hours later, ABC News published the illicit text message in its entirety: “Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.” (The “calendars” apparently referred to a “Vladimir Putin-themed gag gift.”) Johnson then conceded that there was “a real possibility” that the whole “secret society” thing might have been a joke. The senator’s attempt to foment a conspiracy theory about a cabal of left-wing subversives in the FBI had fallen apart faster than a Jenga tower.

Nevertheless, he persisted. And on Wednesday, Johnson published a 25-page report, analyzing the harrowing implications of a larger body of text messages between the aforementioned FBI employees — (now former) investigative agent Peter Strzok and bureau lawyer Lisa Page.


Johnson concluded that this message raised troubling questions about “the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement” in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. (Ostensibly, a president asking the FBI director point-blank to drop an investigation into his friends, while saying publicly, over and over, that he expects the Justice Department to put loyalty to him over the letter of the law is fine, in Johnson’s book — but a president asking to be briefed on an ongoing investigation involving a political ally is a threat to the rule of law.)

Hours later, The Wall Street Journal revealed that this did not, in fact, raise any such questions…


In casting spurious aspersions about subversion at the highest level of the federal government, Johnson has earned comparisons to another, historically infamous Wisconsin senator. But such analogies are deeply unfair — say what you want about Joseph McCarthy, at least his conspiracy theories had a shelf life longer than an open container of guacamole.

The Wisconsin electorate hasn’t exactly been covering itself in glory this decade.

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