Who Cares About Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert Standing Up?
Let's all calm the eff down.
I would like to think that I am on record as strongly in favor of continued U.S. support for Ukraine in defending its homeland against Russia’s illegal invasion. It is a policy in which U.S. interests and values are closely aligned. Ukraine’s stout resistance has soiled Vladimir Putin’s veneer of foreign policy competence. The arguments against supporting Ukraine are unconvincing. And, as I noted yesterday, arming Ukraine is an incredibly low-cost way to tie town a great power that clearly believes in using its military to bully its neighbors. The Biden administration’s response to Russia’s invasion has been so unobjectionably good that Adam Elkus recently noted on Twitter:
The best thing about US's policy in Ukraine is that its so utterly boring. There's really no substantive criticisms that matter. Grinding down military rival for peanuts. Supporting European regional security. Punishing crimes against civilians. All without a single US soldier.
The hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World believes that Ukraine is right to resist Russia’s invasion, Volodymyr Zelensky justifiably earned Time’s Person of the Year status, it was a good thing to arrange for Zelensky to address a joint session of Congress, and I strongly favor robust U.S. support for Ukraine.
The reason I am saying all of this at the outset is because the more I think about it, the more I disagree with the calumny being directed at U.S. Representatives Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert for their behavior during Zelensky’s address to Congress.
What behavior am I referring to? Did they shout “you lie!” while Zelensky was speaking? Did they repeatedly heckle the president of Ukraine while he was speaking to them in his third language? Did they ceremoniously rip up the text of the speech that Zelensky delivered? Did they refuse to stand when Zelensky entered and exited the chamber?
No, their crime was acting like bored millennials while a great man was speaking:
Again, to be clear, I vehemently disagree with Boebert and Gaetz’s position on assisting Ukraine. As noted yesterday, it is good that Zelensky’s speech was of sufficient caliber that “even Ukraine skeptics were shamed into giving Zelensky a standing ovation during his address to Congress.” Maybe the chorus of opprobrium directed at Gaetz and Boebert for their refusal to stand is one of those moments when the effect of sum of the tweets exaggerates the point to caricature.
That said, whatever one thinks of Boebert and Gaetz, they are elected representatives (though in the case of Boebert, just barely) who attended a speech and did not agree with the speaker. They did not disrupt the event or try to engage in a heckler’s veto. They merely declined to stand up when everyone else did.
Slate’s Fred Kaplan noted, “The cheers came from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, all but unanimously. Only a handful of well-known Trump followers—Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Greene—did not applaud. The first two smirked when Zelensky called for American unity.” But Kaplan went on to explain that this was a key reason why Zelensky came to Washington in the first place:
It was skeptics like them that probably spurred Zelensky to come to the Capitol and make his appeal directly. He knew that the Republicans had regained the House in the midterm elections and that some of them—not just those who smirked at his speech but also the likely incoming House speaker, Kevin McCarthy—weren’t so keen on sending seemingly endless boatloads of money and weapons to a war that has gone on for much longer than anyone had expected.
To the skeptics, both in Congress and in economically stressed households across the country, Zelensky stressed that American aid to Ukraine was “not charity” but rather “an investment in global security and democracy.” He pledged never to ask any American soldier to fight on Ukrainian soil, saying his troops “can properly operate American tanks and planes themselves.”
Zelensky needs to address skeptics is because they represent a strong minority of opinion among Republican voters. Gaetz and Boebert are, shall we ay, representative of that slice of public opinion. Pretending it does not exist, or trying to shame it into silence, is unlikely to be effective stratagems. Far better to explain why their position is badly flawed than to rubbish them for refusing to participate in a standing ovation.
The truth is that the American public is more broadly supportive on assisting Ukraine than they are about many other public policy issues. Broad support, however, does not equate to unanimity, and folks like Gaetz and Boebert represent that minority view. If they want to register their disapproval for supporting Ukraine by not standing up when others did, that is a perfectly non-disruptive thing for them to do.
Not standing up to applaud? Meh.