Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican presidential hopeful, appeared on msnbc yesterday morning and was asked about the international nuclear agreement with Iran that had just been announced. Graham, who has an incentive to use the most irresponsible rhetoric possible, described the agreement to deny Iran nuclear weapons as “a possible death sentence for Israel.”
Asked if he’d read the deal he was condemning, Graham conceded, “No,” but he said it didn’t matter – the senator insisted he’s “been to the Mideast enough to know” he didn’t like the details of the agreement he hasn’t seen.
Putting aside for the moment the fact that Graham’s judgment on matters of national security is an abysmal mess, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank highlighted what is plainly true.
Of course Graham hadn’t read the deal – he couldn’t have…. But Graham and his congressional colleagues are not reserving judgment until they know the facts. This is, perhaps, to be expected after 47 GOP senators sent a letter to Iran’s ayatollahs trying to block an agreement even before there was one. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), author of that letter, called the new deal “a terrible, dangerous mistake.”This is legislating by reflex – a mass knee-jerk by the Republican majority in Congress. Those who howled “read the bill” during the health-care debate couldn’t be bothered to read the nuclear agreement before sounding off.
The reason, of course, is that the substance of the international agreement is irrelevant. Republicans already know what they need to know: President Obama, our negotiating partners, and nuclear experts believe this is an excellent deal. President Obama, our negotiating partners, and nuclear experts are not to be trusted. Ergo, it’s time for blind, reflexive opposition.
Which is exactly what we saw yesterday. There’s no real point in documenting every enraged soundbite – GOP reactions generally fell somewhere between hysteria and apoplexy – but they extended from the Republican presidential campaign trail to Capitol Hill to conservative media.
For those watching this unfold, let’s keep a simple truth in mind: for the right, every deal is a bad deal.
New York’s Jon Chait flagged an interesting book excerpt yesterday from J. Peter Scoblic’s “U.S. vs. Them.”
In the ultimate expression of his hatred for engagement, [then-Sen. Barry Goldwater] even opposed the eminently sensible Hot Line Agreement, which established a communications link between Moscow and Washington so that leaders could talk directly during emergencies like the Cuban missile crisis.Goldwater’s governing assumption was that all international interaction was zero-sum – that there had to be a winner and a loser. The very concept of negotiation – in which both sides benefit in the same way trading partners benefit from exchanging goods – therefore eluded him.
Goldwater’s extremism may seem outlandish – because, of course, it is – but he wasn’t necessarily an outlier among far-right Republicans of the last half-century. Remember, as we talked about in April, the right opposed literally every nonproliferation treaty with the Soviets, and even Reagan was accused of “appeasement” and compared to Chamberlain by conservatives in the mid-1980s.
Similarly, the right opposed Nixon going to China. And the SALT treaty. And every START treaty.
My point is not that the international agreement with Iran is flawless or beyond debate. It’s not. Rather, the point is that much of the right is wholly disinterested in a discussion on the merits, turning instead to lazy, pre-written talking points that condemn the nuclear deal – not because of the details they haven’t read, but because it’s a nuclear deal.
The Republican vitriol offers more heat than light. The party’s arguments should be judged accordingly.