Viral fear: House Republicans exhibit their message

On Jan. 10, 1945, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) entered the Senate chamber and shocked the political establishment by delivering the “speech heard ’round the world,” in which he announced his Road to Damascus conversion from isolationism to internationalism.

Just two years later, on the eve of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and established himself as a key figure in helping Democratic President Harry Truman garner bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the establishment of NATO.
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Famously asserting that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” Vandenberg’s bipartisan principle served as a beacon for politicians from both parties, who, although certainly having policy differences with the sitting president, should always present a unified front when speaking before a foreign audience.

To do anything less, according to Vandenberg, would undermine America’s goal to appear strong and unified before Cold War enemies eagerly waiting to exploit any perceived weakness or tear in the American political fabric.

I have been thinking a lot about the “water’s edge” philosophy this past week as I have repeatedly clicked and watched the nefarious Obama-slamming “Do you feel safer?” Web video produced by House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio) and House Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), released to mark President Obama’s 100 days in office.

To be fair, Vandenberg’s principle is not written in stone, nor in the Constitution, for that matter, and probably started to unravel in the 1960s during the darkest days of the Vietnam War. Members of both political parties have repeatedly violated both the spirit and letter of the principle ever since. So I completely understand if someone thinks zeroing in on BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE and Hoekstra is unfair.

I could have just as easily mentioned Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Doctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race MORE’s (D-Nev.) proclamation in April 2007 that “this war is lost.” That was probably the highest-profile violation of the Vandenberg principle in recent years. That is, until Boehner and Hoekstra sent their slickly produced video racing through cyberspace last week.

For the simple purpose of scoring quick and cheap political points (and campaign cash, no doubt), Boehner and Hoekstra’s reprehensible video is designed to do one thing — scare the hell out of people and convince them that the commander in chief, 100 days into his term in office, has single-handedly made the country less safe and more vulnerable to attack.

Edit in some urgent, spooky music, some well-placed newspaper headlines and some ominous camera pushes and pulls and you are ready to grab a bottle of Merlot, head to the basement, curl up in the fetal position and just wait for the terrorists to come barging in.

The thing about the Boehner-Hoekstra video is this. You can slow it down, transcribe it, watch it 50 times, and you won’t hear or see anything, in and of itself, that you can point to and say, “Untruth.” It’s the cynical attitude of the thing that is most troubling.

Like President Bush’s 2003 address to Congress, in which he played with the emotions of the American people by citing questionable British intelligence about the Iraqis seeking to buy fissile material in Africa, Boehner and Hoekstra have similarly figured out how to bypass the brain and appeal directly to those deep, dark, innermost areas where fear lies waiting.

Boehner and Hoekstra should be ashamed of themselves for participating in this video stunt.

By my latest count, the video has been watched over 100,000 times since it was released. That’s certainly not in record-breaking, Susan Boyle/“Britain’s Got Talent” territory, but we shouldn’t be as concerned about the number of times this video has been watched as much as just who might be watching it. Even enjoying it. Cross-reference: Caves, crawlspaces, Pakistan, Afghanistan, laptops, air cards.

I am sure there are some young techno-geek GOP staffers who are celebrating their role in this new, cool Internet project that is getting all the backslapping attention. Fine. Drink up, kids. Free country. But you ought to remember something else while you’re at it.

You have undermined not only Boehner’s and Hoekstra’s reputations as serious legislators, but also the efforts of the only commander in chief this nation has. All in full view of an appreciating foreign audience of the enemies that Boehner and Hoekstra want us to believe they are so concerned about.



You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com.