Denigrating Hoover

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Matt Larson (“Hoover has gone too far,” Nov. 19, 2020) cited me among others in his Stanford Daily angry attack on Hoover Institution scholars. He alleges that we at Hoover are purportedly “more interested in making money and promoting right-wing politics than in doing actual academic research.” Larson also charges that “Hoover fellows constitute a veritable wall of shame. They have been involved in just about every type of skeezy behavior imaginable.” These are serious writs against our institution and yet mostly leveled without substantiation.

My colleagues can address these particular loaded charges of “every type of skeezy behavior imaginable” in their own fashion. But to the degree that these unfounded stereotypes pertain to me, and for the record, I have never received any compensation for media appearances. I am not “making money” on corporate boards. Nor have I ever worked in “right wing politics” — or on any campaign of either party. I am a registered independent voter without party affiliation, and the author of over 20 scholarly books on classical, agrarian and military history and culture. Scholarship, and its dissemination among the broader public, are the major criteria by which all Hoover senior fellows are annually reviewed.

Writing additional political, cultural and social commentary, or appearing on air to discuss written work, is not spreading “disinformation.” That is a false charge that Larson also lodged by focusing solely on one particular television interview I did on Fox News — in part, ironically critical of election coverage on Fox News. But even within such a narrow focus, Larson’s allegations are an unfortunate conglomeration of falsehoods, misrepresentations and half-truths. 

In that interview, I certainly did not spread “baseless and implausible conspiracy theories” and did not, as Larson alleges, “suggest that Democrats like Hillary Clinton intentionally created the COVID-19 pandemic.” That charge is also unfortunately as absurd as it is false. 

What I actually said in that brief interview was that some politicians have admitted to seeing the COVID-19 crisis as a way to implement political agendas that otherwise might not be viable. 

It was in that very context that I referenced statements on the COVID-19 crisis by politicians like California Gov. Gavin Newsom (who has said of the crisis and capitalism: “There is opportunity for reimagining a progressive era as it pertains to capitalism. So yes, absolutely we see this as an opportunity to reshape the way we do business and how we govern.”) and Hillary Clinton (who spoke of the crisis as a chance to push government-run health care: “Again, enlist people that this would be a terrible crisis to waste, as the old saying goes” and who has a history of seeing crises as moments to push her agendas).

I added that when politicians boast of reckless things like this, it creates legitimate worries that they anticipate such crises as rare opportunities to be utilized to push political initiatives that otherwise might not have requisite support — to the point that people might feel manipulated during such times of harsh quarantines and general duress, which is the reason why I deemed such statements “scary.”

Larson charges, “Hanson also falsely claimed that there were widespread irregularities in the 2020 election. Hanson’s incessant spreading of nonsensical conspiracy theories is contrary to the very idea of the University as a source of knowledge.”

Are we to laugh or cry at that puerile tirade? 

Universities encourage inductive reasoning to investigate challenging issues, not to dismiss them when they don’t fit political agendas. Aside from the fact that the referenced single television interview is hardly proof of “incessant spreading of nonsensical conspiracy theories,” it is a matter of record that there were well before the election and after dozens of ongoing lawsuits — most now dismissed, but some still being filed or on appeal — alleging that voting laws passed by state legislatures were in some states modified by state justices and bureaucrats, allegedly contrary to constitutional law. There were episodic discoveries of unusually large computer glitches that until found had resulted in votes wrongly transferred from one candidate to another and hundreds of affidavits of witnesses, whose authenticity is being adjudicated, that were produced to argue for widespread violations of polling rules.

There were occasional troves that have appeared of previously unknown ballots and reports of ineligible out-of-state voters. Before the election, computer experts, including many Democrats, had warned that the new machines simply did not inspire confidence. Prominent Democrats had once insisted that all mail-in ballots, to be valid, had to have authenticated signatures. A respected cyber-security expert after the election has questioned the likelihood of some historically lopsided precinct tallies. All of the above explains why large percentages of the electorate (six in 10 Americans) have doubts about the accuracy of the 2020 voting, reflecting a bipartisan fear about the validity of mail-in voting expressed even well before the election.

Yet what Larson also conveniently fails to note in his false accusation is what I did not say and have not said of the above reported irregularities: that such worrisome documented anomalies have been proven of such a magnitude to have changed the ultimate outcome of the election. That is the real point of all contention. But it had not yet been proven at the time I spoke or of this present letter — and that is why I did not allege that. In fact, I have cautioned since the election repeatedly not to embrace conspiracy theories alleging a computer theft of a vast Trump landslide.

Any fair listener to that brief interview would grasp its general theme and content: The traditional American idea of Election Day voting has now been altered — mostly by mail-in voting that raises questions of authenticity and is seen by lots of American as partisan-driven. In some states, the rush to rely preponderantly on mail-in balloting has made on-site certification of signatures and addresses much more problematic and a matter of constant litigation. Six months ago liberal organizations, legal groups and university affiliates, Stanford included, were worried over proper compliance with new and rushed COVID-19 mandated rules for early voting. Potential late campaign comebacks and newsworthy events occurring during the last days of the race can now become irrelevant — and were seen as such. Those challenges are only amplified by increasing third-party so-called vote harvesting, and near-automatic mailing by many state agencies of voter registration forms, sometimes to unverified addresses. 

Together with charges that Arizona, for example, was called far too early, on the basis of early returns or problematic counting, and questionable pre-election polls that were once again widely off, many Americans naturally have legitimate concerns about all these departures from prior election norms. The result is that the public can insidiously lose confidence in the foundation of citizenship: the sanctity of voting.

Nor, as Larson alleges, did I say that early voting or mail voting were not done in the past, but rather they were done often under the auspices of more infrequent “absentee voting.” I illustrated that fact philologically by noting the phrase “absentee voting” is disappearing from our Election day media vocabulary, replaced by the new standard “mail-in voting” and “early voting” phraseology.

Again, my point was that the accelerated transition away from normative Election Day voting — brought about most dramatically by the lockdown and new voting strategies — raises fundamental questions of preserving vote sanctity and authenticity, mostly by the unprecedented magnitude of the changeover rather than its novelty per se. Indeed, early and mail-in voting — comprising in 2020 nearly 100 million ballots — was seen on the Left as a “revolution” by the very way millions of Americans voted without showing up to the polls just on Election Day.

Yes, thousands of soldiers in the Civil War voted away from home, by what then was often called “postal voting,” as well as through tally sheets and on-site polls at the front — and usually with far more scrutiny and authentication than today’s voting. Indeed, the current controversies over mass mail-in voting began during the Civil War, when the new practice met  stern opposition that it departed from constitutional practices and was often massaged to favor the incumbent president.

But the practice of military absentee voting has traditionally been regarded as a special case, seen as somewhat different from civilian absentee voting and the current trend to “mail-in balloting” and “early voting.” If that was not so, we would no longer need to use the customary qualifying prefix “military” to identify special categories such as “military” voting or “military” ballots.

Finally, the Hoover Institution has been a part of Stanford University for over 100 years. Larson’s rant against Hoover made little attempt to understand the historic, occasional and natural tensions that can arise between a center/right research and archival institution and a center/left university. Naturally, there can arise some reasons for both parties to find fault with the other — even without the unfortunate defamatory agendas of partisans like Larson. 

 Yet Hoover scholars as a general rule do not fixate on Stanford, whether the University, its students or its professors, for their perceived lapses in judgement or controversies that often can arise at large campuses — such as the recent sensational allegations concerning admissions fraud; a recent Stanford affiliated visiting researcher arrested for allegedly hiding ties with the Chinese military; Department of Education allegations that Stanford had not properly and fully disclosed, as required, sizable gifts from Chinese government-related sources; sex scandal allegations at the business school; efforts to disrupt a campus speaker while spreading a grotesque anti-Semitic flyer; and general concern on the campus concerning a wave of anti-Semitic incidents.

Even though those incidents are factual, what would be the point of collating them in service to a slanted and one-sided Stanford Daily hit op-ed — other than to stereotype, misrepresent, and denigrate the totality of the mission of a university that has done the world a great deal of good?

— Victor Davis Hanson

Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow, Classics and Military History

The Hoover Institution

Ph.D. Classics, Stanford University, 1980

Contact Victor Davis Hanson at vhanson ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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