Do Democrats Hear Themselves?

Nancy Pelosi, Tammy Murphy, and an ever-expanding Axis of Evil.

Christophe Gateau/AP

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On Sunday, Nancy Pelosi suggested on national television that the FBI investigate pro-Palestinian protesters over her suspicion that some are being financed by Russia—a hunch the powerful Democrat presented without evidence. Later, she defended it, again without evidence.

The remarks, with their whiff of Hooverite conflation of protesters with foreign threats, were instantly condemned by the Muslim civil rights group CAIR. But as anti-democratic as Pelosi’s comments were, they were equally instructive of how a subset of influential Democrats see Israel’s destruction of Gaza. Take a look at this quote from another Democrat (albeit a very recent Democrat) from New York‘s terrific profile of Tammy Murphy, the first lady of New Jersey who is running for US Senate:

She also floats a theory about the [Israel-Hamas] war, drawing on the years she lived abroad when Phil [the governor] served as President Obama’s ambassador to Germany: “In my opinion, there’s about four really bad actors in the world”—Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea—”and this whole thing was instigated as a proxy war in order to distract the West, in order to make sure we weren’t able to focus on Ukraine.”

Murphy’s version of this theory, unlike Pelosi’s, does not call for law enforcement to look into ceasefire proponents. But in leaping to an exceptionally unlikely theory of what led Hamas—which has attacked Israel for decades—to attack Israel on October 7, Murphy is at once implausibly conspiratorial and shockingly dismissive of the death toll in a horrific war in which the United States is playing a key role. 

What is the big picture Murphy is proposing? Is it for us to view Israel’s campaign against Gaza—which has killed over 26,000 people—and the US’s support for Gaza’s destruction as being complicit with a grand attempt to “distract the West”? That we zoom out to consider that Hamas has links to Iran, and that Iran has links to Russia, and that one should, therefore think the Biden administration is playing smart geopolitical chess against the world’s “bad actors”? These approaches contain flashes of David Frum’s infamous Axis of Evil, an over-simplistic and reckless worldview that led us into disaster before.

Just as Pelosi invoked her career on the Senate Intelligence Committee in lieu of actual evidence about Russian funding of protesters, Murphy seems to believe that living abroad for several years equates to understanding the nuances of geopolitics in a way that the masses simply cannot.

Yes, how convinced they are in the notion that the masses don’t understand the broader picture. But lazy theories pointing to the usual “bad” suspects are simply not the same as understanding the complexities of a widening regional war. It is hawkishness disguised as faux nuance. If you want the war, say it.

Some Democrats seem to want it both ways, framing discussions of a horrific war mostly as an election issue. Criticism is unhelpful because to these voters, keeping Donald Trump out of the White House is the paramount issue. But unhelpful to whom? Who could look at “hell” in Gaza and not think beyond 2024? 

Shortly after Pelosi’s remarks, some warned that they could end up hurting Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. That might very well be true; many are indeed disgusted with this administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. But instincts to judge Pelosi’s comments through the lens of winning elections misses not seeing them for what they plainly are: a politician saying a protest against war isn’t legitimate—and that the federal government should use law enforcement to intimidate its critics. 

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