If you worked really hard, you might be able to come up with an idea as unappealing as a government disinformation board. Voters already distrust the government and are especially concerned about its excessive intrusion and unchecked regulatory power.
If you worked even harder, you might find as bad a person to lead it as Nina Jankowicz, a self-styled “disinformation expert” whose real specialty seems to be spreading disinformation to support her left-wing views.
If you tried hard to justify this mess, you might come up with a defender as ineffective as Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security. The secretary, already in deep trouble because of the porous southern border, faced a hostile Senate hearing and admitted he knew nothing about Ms. Jankowicz’s dismal history of ideological fulminations and partisan statements. He refused to say whose bright idea it was to hire her—only that he was clueless about her background. Still, Mayorkas refused to apologize, refused to replace her and refused to back down from creating this ill-conceived (and ill-defined) board.
If you did all these things, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has, you would be committing political malpractice. You would be mocking the Constitution’s fundamental protection of free speech, encoded in the First Amendment. Although a few ideologues might applaud you, you would hear only groans from moderate Democrats running for reelection. This ill-conceived board would lash them, at their peril, to a high-profile effort to monitor private speech, conducted by a very unpopular administration. That’s dangerous constitutionally and incompetent politically.
Just how bad are Jankowicz’s views? Judge for yourself.
She promoted the author of the now-discredited Steele dossier as a resource to combat disinformation.
She supports critical race theory and considers its opponents “disinformers.” “Critical race theory has become one of those hot-button issues that the Republicans and other disinformers, who are engaged in disinformation for profit, frankly…have seized on,” she said in October. “But it’s no different than any of the other hot-button issues that have allowed disinformation to flourish…. It’s weaponizing people’s emotion.”
That’s hardly the kind of insight and fair-minded judgment DHS needs.
Faced with Jankowicz’s past statements at a public hearing, what should Mayorkas and the Biden administration have done? The secretary should have walked back the appointment and taken the opportunity to explain the rationale behind the Disinformation Governance Board—that foreign disinformation is a serious problem for our national security and that DHS wants to be part of the solution.
Instead, Mayorkas kept repeating his feeble defense, which was, in essence, “I know nothing. I see nothing.” That might work as comedy, but it won’t work for Secretary Mayorkas. Yet he kept trying it. He never backed away from the ill-conceived idea of a disinformation board or hiring Nina Jankowicz to head it.
This kind of obstinacy is a hallmark of the Biden administration. Its officials stick with divisive, ideologically driven policies, even when it is clear those policies aren’t working. On issue after issue, policy after policy, they keep driving into a brick wall, then backing up and ramming into it again. Why change, just because the policies are failing and voters are manifestly unhappy? Why should DHS be any different from Biden’s other agencies?
DHS’ decision to form a disinformation board, appoint Nina Jankowicz to head it and then refuse to drop it when the defects and political blowback became clear, is just the latest example. The department’s recalcitrance is a threat to civil liberties and a political gift to Republicans.
Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.