Iran hawks' "political legitimacy" nonsense: An anatomy of their dumbest argument against the nuclear deal

The anti-diplomacy crowd wants you to think the public is on their side. Here's some bad news for them

By Gary Legum
Published September 3, 2015 12:00PM (EDT)

Opponents of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran have made many terrible arguments against it. Most of these arguments, as best I can tell, amount to neocons yelling, “Iran! Booga booga!” At which the American people are expected to crawl under their beds and not come back out until a “better deal” comes along. Now, after weeks of furious lobbying interspersed with exasperated eye-rolling, the Obama administration has convinced 34 Democrats to sustain the president’s expected veto of any Senate resolution disapproving of the nuclear deal with Iran. (Because the deal is an international treaty, any veto can only be overridden by a supermajority of 67 of the chamber’s members as opposed to the usual 60 the Republicans have used to block everything else in the Obama era.)

Now that the administration has secured the support to sustain the president’s veto, these opponents have changed direction. Instead of arguing against the deal on its merits, they have taken to calling into question its “political legitimacy” by, among other things, noting that sustaining a veto is hardly winning because 34 is not a majority of 100, it’s unfair! As if they are only noticing now that the filibuster is undemocratic. Or at least it would be, if we had direct democracy at the federal level instead of this miserable representative form the Founders stuck us with.

“Political legitimacy” is a phrase beloved by partisans both left and right, who love to bring it out because it’s portentous enough to sound important. In fact it is gibberish, waved in the air like Van Helsing waving a cross at Dracula, in the hope it can ward off any and all objections. Because who could oppose a policy’s need for legitimacy with the voters?

(One person who might oppose that need if we were talking about something he favors is our friend Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., whose senior thesis at Harvard argued that the country’s leaders must be the moral and intellectual superiors of the commoners they represent. Cotton, of course, is one of the Iran deal’s most committed opponents. But I digress.)

A perfect example of this new tack is this column by Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. Rubin’s piece is filled with so much wrong information that I briefly wondered if she wrote it just after waking up from a six-week coma. But let’s focus for a moment on the evidence she offers in support of her “political legitimacy” argument.

“A large majority in Congress will reject the deal. The president will nevertheless go forward, despite that vote and despite the 2-to-1 majority in the country that disapproves of the deal[.]”

Rubin repeats this 2-to-1 point later on, so it must be important. She seems to be referring to this Quinnipiac poll released on Monday that shows the public opposed to the deal by a margin of 55 to 25 percent. Pretty convincing! It is also completely contradicted by a University of Maryland poll released on Tuesday that concludes the American people support the Iran deal by a margin of 52 to 47 percent.

What’s interesting is the methodology of these polls. Quinnipiac used the traditional polling method of calling a random sampling of voters and asking them 100 questions about a wide range of topics, of which the Iran deal was only one. The University of Maryland’s poll, on the other hand, was notably different. For one, its only subject was the Iran deal. For another, before asking questions the pollsters brought the respondents together for panel discussions. The panels were briefed in detail on the Iran deal and heard arguments both for and against it, as well as alternate proposals that have been pushed by opponents including several of the GOP’s presidential candidates. By the end of the process, just over half the voters said the deal should be approved.

In other words, if given a chance to listen to and evaluate detailed critiques of both the Iran deal and its alternatives, as opposed to their usual method of ingesting soundbites from neocon panic vectors like, well, Jennifer Rubin, a small majority of Americans will reach the same conclusion as experts in arms control nuclear non-proliferation and agree that the deal should be ratified.

One can see how Rubin could miss this important survey, however. A story summarizing it was only published in the same newspaper she writes for.

I could go on about the concept of “political legitimacy” – like, for example, noting that a possible nuclear deal with Iran was an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, when the voters asserted by a large margin that they preferred Barack Obama over Mitt Romney to handle the negotiations – but what would be the point? Jennifer Rubin is a terrible hack with bad opinions, but she writes for an editorial page that also employs torture enthusiasts, climate-change deniers, and creepy old setxual harassers. For that lineup, mediocrity would be a lofty goal.

President Obama Secures Enough Senate Votes to Protect Iran Nuclear Deal


Gary Legum

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Aol_on Barack Obama Foreign Policy Iran Iran Nuclear Deal Jennifer Rubin Media Criticism Neoconservatives