Why Should Politics Stop at the Water's Edge?

Mitt Romney is in London—most definitely not to cheer on Rafalca in the dressage competition, mind you, because he barely knows that horse ("I have to tell you. This is Ann's sport. I'm not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it—I will not be watching the event")—but he's making sure that while he's over there, he won't utter a discouraging word about the socialist business-hating foreigner in the Oval Office who is working every day to destroy America. Because that's not how we do things. "Politics stops at the water's edge," we always say. My question is: Why?

The phrase, by the way, was originally spoken by Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, but he was explaining why he was going to be cooperating with the Truman administration on matters of foreign policy. Exactly when it became associated with the idea that when you're traveling outside the United States you should pretend that here in America we all get along famously and have no political disagreements, I'm not sure. We often hear that if you're a politician, it's unseemly to be political "on foreign soil." But seriously, who cares? Are we worried that people in the rest of the world will discover the terrible truth that we engage in politics and that people from our competing parties don't much like each other? Horrors!

When politicians travel outside the country, they usually want to appear statesmanlike, rising above the petty disputes of the moment to represent the country as a whole. They don't have much motivation to engage in a lot of interparty sniping anyway, so perhaps we could do away with this strange idea that some kind of decorum is broken if a candidate disagrees with his opponent when he's overseas. It's hard to see what harm would result from Mitt Romney being the same squirrelly partisan during his foreign trip that he is when he's at home. So if you feel like it, Mitt, go right ahead. I for one won't criticize you for it.

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