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Internet uproar over Pelosi, Hitler, and Twitter

The NRCC didn’t post the clip of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Adolf Hitler, but they did link to the video in their Twitter feed. After some Democratic pressure, the group pulled it. Did they do the right thing?
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks about healthcare reform in San Francisco
At issue was a mashup video clip that parodied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats’ positions on health care, by swapping out subtitles in a popular video clip on YouTube.Robert Galbraith / REUTERS

If Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, were a movie golfer, he’d be David Simms, the antagonist in director Ron Shelton’s 1996 romantic comedy, “Tin Cup.”

That movie, you’ll recall, starred Kevin Costner as driving range pro Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy.

Tin Cup/Costner is the Errol Flynn of movie golf, the swashbuckling hero of derring-do, always ready to pull the three-wood and have a go at it, even from bad lies in the rough and over water; Simms, played by Don Johnson, is Tin Cup’s opposite and his nemesis: a “grinder,” the kind of golfer who’s perfectly happy with par, and who always plays the safe shot, even when the riskier shot isn’t all much riskier.

In a pivotal scene early in the movie, Simms must face the Hamlet-like question all golfers regularly face — to lay up, or man up.

Simms chooses to lay up, and Tin Cup mocks him for it mercilessly. Later, when his caddie reminds him that his perpetual refusal ever to lay up — and his consequent failure, time after time — is what’s kept him from a career of fame and glory on the PGA Tour, Tin Cup avers dismissively, “Greatness courts failure.”

A romantic line, to be sure, but one never uttered by Chairman Sessions — at least, not if the NRCC’s decision Tuesday to cave to pressure from Democrats is any indication of how Sessions approaches politics.

Either that, or Sessions and his henchmen are far sneakier than I give them credit for being.

At issue was a mashup video clip that parodied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democrats’ positions on health care, by swapping out subtitles in a popular video clip on YouTube. Sessions, or his NRCC senior staff, relented under pressure from Democrats, and pulled the link.

In other words, they laid up, when they should have pulled the three-wood and gone for it.

To begin, no one at the NRCC had anything to do with the creation of the video clip in question, which is a clever melding of a very popular clip from a Hitler biopic, “Der Untertag” — released under the title “Downfall” in the United States.

All anybody at the NRCC did was watch the clip, think it was a funny way to parody Pelosi and the Democrats’ approach to health care overhaul, and Tweet it — that is, link to the video clip in the NRCC’s Twitter feed, which has about 4,500 followers.

For this, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee went utterly nuts, declaring that the NRCC was comparing Pelosi to Adolf Hitler, and demanding that Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, chastise Sessions and demand the removal of “this vile Tweet.”

“This vile Tweet?”


The proper response from the NRCC should have been, “Man up. Politics ain’t bean bag — and you know it.”

For good measure, the NRCC could have included in its response links to any of these video mashups, which, not coincidentally, use the exact same three-minute clip from “Der Untertag” — Hitler Finds Out Sarah Palin Resigns, Republican Party War Room and Hitler Finds Out Ted Kennedy Is Dead — but which happen to make fun of Republicans.

“Der Untertag” is a particularly popular video clip for mashups. My personal favorite has nothing to do with politics, unless one counts USC Trojan football as political: Hitler Defends Pete Carroll.

I don’t recall Republicans screaming bloody murder over those clips. But something tells me that if they had, Democrats would have said, “Man up. Politics ain’t beanbag — and you know it.”

In this event, it certainly appears that the Republicans over at the NRCC were a bit weak-kneed today.

There is, of course, the other possibility — that Sessions and his senior staff, having alerted the world to the existence of the video clip, decided they could now afford to take down their link to it in the spirit of bipartisanship (or whatever), secure in the knowledge that the genie is out of the bottle, and the video clip will continue to gain viewers as it explodes virally.

I’d like to believe the latter is the case. But because I bet with my head, and not my heart, I’ll wager on the former.

Bill Pascoe is CEO of The Foundation for American Freedom, a conservative think tank headquartered in Alexandria, Va.