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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

The Real Nuclear Option

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After a while, you sometimes get tired of using the word "hypocritical" when writing about the Republican Party.

But when John McCain (R-AZ) rails against an immigration bill that he himself proposed -- when Mitch McConnell (R-KY) votes against creating a deficit reduction committee he earlier supported on the Senate floor six times -- when Republicans slam the stimulus bill, yet 100 of them ask privately for stimulus money -- when John Kyl (R-AZ) decries earmarks only to request $200 million earmarks himself -- when Republicans blast Miranda rights for the Christmas Day Bomber, despite the Bush administration using Miranda rights with the Shoe Bomber, "hypocrisy" is the most natural word, at least in polite society.

Yet one almost has to stop there with the near-endless examples because when you use a word too often, it borders on losing its meaning.

Eventually, it approaches laughable. Like when Republicans whined about President Obama giving a speech to school kids about studying hard (!), and George W. Bush had made the same presentation. Or when Republicans complained that Barack Obama dared put his feet on the sacred desk in the Oval Office -- which of course they didn't complain about when George Bush did it, and photos surfaced.

It goes on and on and endlessly on. And sniping that "Democrats do it, too" is no answer -- because a) that's mere misdirection trying to shift attention, and b) there is no equal record of Democrats being as egregiously, non-stop hypocritical as this. Cherry-picking a handful of examples wouldn't change that.

And it wouldn't change that for another reason. Because at a certain point, there comes a difference between simple hypocrisy, which is being harmful to yourself, and putting others at risk.

We do expect politicians to be hypocritical, on both sides of the aisle. What we don't expect is for politicians to turn natural hypocrisy into policy, doing so at the expense of their sworn duty to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.

This isn't hyperbole. We have on the record the Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." We have the upcoming Republican House Speaker John Boehner saying "I reject the word" compromise. We have on the record a letter signed by every Republican senator promising to block all legislation until they get their way.

The result is a Republicans action that -- were it the Democrats -- the entire GOP machine would be going nuclear how Democrats were unpatriotic Communist agents who hated America and were weakening its defenses.

This goes beyond hypocrisy.

Imagine if Democrats had voted to block supporting 9/11 first responders. Imagine how Republicans would be ballistically invoking those "heroes on the front line defending America." Rudy Giuliani's synapses might even overload.

Imagine now that that's not even the action. The action actually is nuclear. Literally.

It's that the Republican Party, taking ethereal hypocrisy to the level of abolishing their sworn responsibility, has decided it's better party politics to block the New START treaty than risk nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

That's what this bill is about, to be clear: the protection of loose nuclear material in Russia from being stolen.

Imagine if it was the Democrats in Congress blocking a nuclear arms treaty, designed to keep bombs from our terrorist enemies. Imagine the Republican outrage.

But it's more than even that. The conservative Heritage Foundation suggested that there is disagreement on the treaty among experts. "The list of experts is large," they wrote, identifying every opposing expert they could. The Prague Project took up Heritage's challenge on how divided the "disagreement" actually was.

They came up with 70 experts for, and just six against who the Heritage Foundation could name -- five of whom were former Bush-appointees. Imagine if these experts were lined up that overwhelmingly against Democratic opposition. Just imagine.

Former presidents almost never get involved with foreign policy. But former President George H.W. Bush, spoke out in strong favor of the treaty. This was that important.

How important, and how clear-cut its ramifications? In an editorial, the Anchorage Daily News addressed the GOP's actions:

"Republicans blocked that [treaty] pre-election. Really, if politicians can't agree on not obliterating the planet, what can they agree on?"

Imagine if that was about Democrats blocking ratification that could "obliterate the planet." Imagine the hell that Republicans, that Fox News, that Rush Limbaugh, that all right-wing talk radio would be screaming. Imagine Glenn Beck's tears.

Democrats are putting America at risk, they'd bellow! Democrats are opening the door to a mushroom cloud in your backyard. Democrats are weak on defense. Democrats are weak on terrorism. Democrats are putting politics before the nation's interest.

The previous treaty -- signed by Ronald Reagan -- ran out a full year ago. For the past year there has been no treaty to protect the loose nukes. Because Republicans are blocking it, for politics.

For the past eight months, this bill has been signed by President Obama, waiting for ratification by the Senate. Because Republicans have been blocking it, for politics.

By all agreement, the new treaty improves upon the old one. When Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) demanded $12 billion more, President Obama added $14 billion. And Sen. Kyl still is blocking the treaty, as are the rest of Senate Republicans.

Over two weeks are arranged to debate the bill, but Republicans insist they need more time. The previous bill was debated for less than two weeks.

And for all this, Republicans like to posture themselves as being strong on national defense. On keeping you safe. Except against nuclear weapons. Except not supporting 9/11 first responders. When politics get in the way.

"The single most important thing we want to achieve," said the Republican Minority Leader, " is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

More important, it turns out, than nuclear obliteration. This isn't hypocrisy. This is sickness. But America is the one who could catch it.