“Playing politics” is an accusation that gets thrown around a lot in politics, and it’s usually unfair. Oh sure, there is plenty of hyperbolic rhetoric and people exaggerating how much umbrage they’re taking, but by and large most political theater is in service of ideas that people, both on the left and right, actually believe in. Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee are irritatingly self-aggrandizing, after all, but no one doubts that they actually want to stop gay couples from marrying.
But as Republicans have comically overwrought meltdowns over Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, it’s hard to shake the sense that, for a lot of them, this is pure political theater, being conducted not because of any serious convictions about the deal itself but simply to stir up irrational fears to be harped on for the rest of the election season. (The election, heaven help us, is still 14 months away.)
Obama’s plan looks like a done deal, but now the clowns are spilling out, honking their noses and trying to get attention by screaming about how we’re all going to die now. As Nick Corasanti of the New York Times reports, a veritable who’s-who of unserious but self-important demagogues, led by known foreign policy experts Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, have descended on D.C. to impart their collective wisdom about diplomacy, which appears to amount to implying that the president’s testicles aren’t big enough.
Ted Cruz in particular seems to think that this is his moment to prove to the doubters that he is a big tough guy who gets things done because he’s tough and that’s what tough guys do. He, along with other House conservatives, is leading a plan to derail the deal by harping on legal technicalities, with Rep. Peter Roskam fully admitting it’s a “process argument.”
Now we have Rep. Louie Gohmert threatening to resign over all this. Clearly, Congress will be bereft of this leading luminary who graces this country with conspiracy theories about Jade Helm, how ISIS is being snuck in by Mexican drug dealers, and how God will destroy the country for legalizing same-sex marriage.
In other words, two of the worst Republican traits of the past 20 years—pointless obstructionism for the sole purpose of sticking it to the Democrats and mindless demagoguery about the nefarious Middle Eastern threat to convince voters of your manhood—are joining together to create a massive, misshapen beast that represents everything that’s gone wrong with politics in the 21st century.
Every below-the-belt move is up for grabs. “Republicans in both chambers are discussing the possibility of voting on Friday, Sept. 11, to put maximum political pressure on Democrats, according to senior GOP sources,” Politico reported on Tuesday.
Clearly, Republicans believe that Americans have forgotten about how well it went last time they decided to exploit that particular national tragedy in order to stoke conflict with a Middle Eastern country in hopes that Americans would mistake them for John Wayne. They’re probably not wrong; Americans can and often do have short memories about embarrassing lapses in all common sense and judgment of the sort that ushered in the Iraq War.
But it’s important not to forget, because that entire debacle is exactly what you get when you let cynical Republicans get away with romanticizing international conflict to bolster their own tough-guy reputations. Here is a news item from September 7, 2002, when the Bush administration was rolling out their spiffy new plan to invade Iraq:
The White House decided, they said, that even with the appearance of disarray it was still more advantageous to wait until after Labor Day to kick off their plan.
”From a marketing point of view,” said Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff who is coordinating the effort, ”you don’t introduce new products in August.”
A centerpiece of the strategy, White House officials said, is to use Mr. Bush’s speech on Sept. 11 to help move Americans toward support of action against Iraq, which could come early next year.
So that worked out well, right? Luckily for us, one of the main architects of that plan, Dick Cheney, has been running around telling everyone that Obama’s plan will be the death of us. “This agreement will give Iran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland,” Cheney argued in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. “I know of no nation in history that has agreed to guarantee that the means of its own destruction will be in the hands of another nation, particularly one that is hostile.”
A protester was then removed from the room for sensibly pointing out that Cheney is simply “warmongering” and that people “should not be listening to him.”
It’s no secret why Republicans love portraying Democrats as weak and treacherous when it comes to foreign policy, and particularly when it comes to hostile Islamic countries. It feeds right into the base’s worst instincts for empty masculine posturing and fear-based politics. It’s particularly salient to conservatives now, as painting Hillary Clinton as some kind of weak-willed surrender monkey, mostly by dropping the word “Benghazi” a lot, is clearly going to be the centerpiece of the anti-Clinton strategy.
But this entire display should, if nothing else, be a reminder of why it’s so critical that Obama, a bona fide grown-up as well as a Democrat, needs to get this deal secured before he’s out of the White House, to shut out any possibility that the people who are just playing politics with our national security will get more of a say in the process.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.