There are two very good things going on in Dana Milbank's latest column, "Republicans in a post-post-9/11 era". First of all, there's the recognition that the GOP has very proudly stepped into a "post-post-9/11 era!"
Suppose that during the previous administration the Democrats had opposed President Bush's efforts to protect airplanes from would-be bombers and had blocked his strategy to keep nuclear weapons out of terrorists' hands.
It's a safe bet Bush would charge, as he did more than once during his presidency, that Democrats are "not interested in the security of the American people."
The second thing that's very admirable here is that Milbank has cut against the media chatter and given a higher priority to the GOP's puzzling obstruction of the START treaty, over and above the big story of the weekend that they're spoofing on "Saturday Night Live": the recent uptick in discontent over the TSA's security measures. Both of these things well inform Milbank's thesis, but only the former matter is one of serious import. The latter story is a pile of manure, spun into gold by the frenzy of media hype.
As far as the START Treaty goes, understanding why its ratification is in a constant state of disarray only requires you to have been paying attention to the last two years of legislative wrangling between the White House and the Congressional GOP. It takes 67 votes to ratify the treaty. The GOP doesn't really oppose the treaty in principle. But Jon Kyl somehow got anointed the major player on the GOP side, and he's had some demands -- demands that have already been met:
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in July, Kyl wrote that most senators would consider New START "relatively benign" as long as Obama spent enough money to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Two months earlier, and quite apart from treaty politics, Obama had issued a plan to spend $180 billion to do just that ($80 billion to upgrade the national weapons labs, $100 million to modify or replace the aging arsenal of nuclear missiles)--and reaffirmed the basic tenets of U.S. nuclear-deterrence policy.
After the midterms, when ratification became urgent, Obama intensified his efforts to bring Kyl around, dispatching senior officers and officials to Arizona for negotiations. For instance, Kyl had claimed in his Journal piece that the nuclear budget for the next fiscal year fell $2.4 billion short of what was needed. Obama's emissaries agreed to add $4.1 billion.
This hasn't been enough to mollify Kyl. Why is that? Well, it's basically because President Obama is very committed to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, and as long as Obama is for it, the GOP is against it. That's basically it! (See also: Grassley, Chuck; lengthy and ultimately pointless negotiations with over health care reform.)
As Milbank points out, the failure to re-ratify START will have a bunch of far-reaching effects, about which the GOP no longer seems to care:
Since the expiration of the previous START treaty last December, there have been no U.S. inspectors in Russia to keep an eye on the country's thousands of nuclear warheads. If the Senate doesn't come up with the 67 votes needed for ratification, says Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security, there's a risk Russia will retaliate by removing its logistical support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, abandoning its cooperation in preventing nuclear proliferation, and thwarting U.S. efforts to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
Milbank then moves on to the recent dust-up over the TSA, and to my mind, nails it in two sentences:
Then there's the backlash over the new imaging and pat-downs being used to screen airport passengers for explosives. A CBS News poll found that 81 percent of Americans favor use of the new imaging machines, but Republican lawmakers feel otherwise.
Yes, suddenly and without warning, the GOP has turned against government intrusion in the name of personal liberty over security and, naturally, it's over the least serious aspect of post-9/11 security. As I wrote over the weekend, "At last, someone in the super-intrusive regime of post-9/11 searches and wiretaps and renditions and secret torture prisons crossed some kind of 'line.' And the line? Naturally, it is in your pants."
As Milbank points out, the vast majority of Americans have no problem passing through the new and revealing imaging machines. But we are way past that mattering, because what Daniel Boorstin would call a "pseudo-event" has been unleashed in the public square, and along with it comes overhyped outrage and outright misleading nonsense: like the now-viral "shirtless boy strip-searched at airport" story that turned out to be gilded horsepoop. (Naturally, the story was well-hyped on the Drudge Report, our great chronicler of pseudo-events.)
Of course, the whole point of manufacturing a pseudo-event is to occlude important matters and block them out of the media coverage they deserve -- like, say, the pointless obstruction of the START treaty! So, kudos to Milbank for making a good point that comes properly prioritized.