GOP Falls Short in Standing Up Against Putin ... and for First Amendment Rights

There seems to be some danger that the Republican Party is beginning to associate itself with a policy that permits it to disregard American citizenship and hurl certain Americans under the ideological bus. This is a bad idea, to say the least, both morally and politically.

On October 7, 2013, Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, received a bipartisan letter from over three dozen U.S. House members.  The lead signors were Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democrat Mark Takano of California.  But only one other Republican, Richard Hanna of New York, signed the document.

The letter called on Blackmun to stand up for the rights of U.S. athletes against the International Olympic Committee, which was pressuring them not to make any public display of opposition to Russia’s draconian crackdown on the rights of homosexuals during the 2014 Winter Olympics to be staged in Sochi, Russia. Under the new laws, unless you hide your homosexuality in public you are subject to arrest. Similar laws prohibit many kinds of criticism of Putin.

Even a Republican who supports Russia’s crackdown on gays should be concerned about an IOC precedent that would muzzle American political speech.  Such a Republican should consider the possibility that the next IOC ban will be on displays of opposition by athletes visiting an Olympics host country which aggressively restricts the rights of those who protest against gay marriage or gay adoption. They wouldn’t care for that much, would they? Slippery slope.

Signing the Ros-Lehtinen letter would have been a perfect opportunity for such a Republican to establish credibility through moderation and to blunt criticism from the left that could have serious political repercussions in a country that now supports gay marriage by a strong and clear majority. As they have been doing so often these days, Republicans missed the boat.

But this brings up the question: Where do mainstream Republicans stand on Russia’s anti-gay crackdown?  According to left-wing extremist Rachel Maddow, they not only support the crackdown but helped enact it.

In a recent broadcast, Maddow relied on reporting from Right Wing Watch to suggest that since some Republicans support the National Organization for Marriage, and since the NOM’s president visited Russia to advocate for the enactment of that country’s anti-gay crackdown, the Republican Party is as much responsible for the crackdown as Vladimir Putin is. Maddow declared that Russia’s virulent homophobia was “made in America!”

Of course, mainstream Republicans had nothing whatsoever to do with Russia’s neo-Soviet pogrom against gays (just one of many groups that have been targeted, including all non-Orthodox Christians).  But the silence of mainstream Republicans on the Russian crackdown opens the party to scurrilous attacks like those Maddow and her ilk routinely offer. It’s a political and moral error, the kind that has seen the party pay a heavy price at the polls of late.  And this isn’t an isolated example.

Take the case of Peter Willcox, for instance.

Wilcox was the skipper of a Greenpeace vessel that was boarded in international waters by the Russian secret police.  The ship was circling a Russian oil rig in the Pechora Sea, a rig which had an expired spill contingency plan but was operating anyway. Greenpeace believed that Russia lacked the ability to respond appropriately to a spill, and that a situation similar to what occurred with the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico was in the offing.

Wilcox, who never even left his ship much less set foot on the Russian rig, was illegally Shanghaied and transported to Russia, along with his entire crew, and is being held without bail on absolutely bogus charges of “piracy” that could send him to a Russian dungeon for more than a decade.

If Russians can kidnap Peter Willcox today, which American citizens will they kidnap tomorrow?  Russians believe that all broadcast television should be state-operated, that critics of Putin can be arrested or murdered, that Hezbollah and Iran are friends to be supported and that the price of oil can never be too high. Are Americans on the other side of those issues subject to arrest?