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August 02, 2011 8:35 AM Negotiating with ‘terrorists’

By Steve Benen

Vice President Biden spoke at some length yesterday with House Democrats, helping make the case for the debt-ceiling agreement reached on Sunday. There’s no transcript or recording of the behind-closed-doors discussion, but second-hand accounts are causing a bit of a stir.

Vice President Joe Biden joined House Democrats in lashing tea party Republicans Monday, accusing them of having “acted like terrorists” in the fight over raising the nation’s debt limit, according to several sources in the room.

Biden was agreeing with a line of argument made by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) at a two-hour, closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting.

“We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”

Biden, driven by his Democratic allies’ misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: “They have acted like terrorists.”

Biden later denied having used the word, and his office said in a statement that the V.P. “does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.”

Nevertheless, the Republican National Committee and a few GOP presidential hopefuls are throwing a fit, demanding Biden publicly apologize for a word he may not have used in private.

For the record, I think it’s best to avoid equating one’s political rivals with terrorists.

That said, it’s worth noting that Biden isn’t the first person to go down this road (if, in fact, the un-sourced, second-hand accounts are accurate).

Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, for example, recently said, “The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really…. They’re really putting our whole society at risk.”

Time’s Joe Klein wrote last week of the GOP debt-ceiling strategy, “Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.” The New York Times’s Nick Kristof wrote a week earlier, as part of the same discussion about Republican tactics, “[L]et’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.”

Let’s also not forget the rhetoric from congressional Republicans themselves. Last year, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he could “empathize” with a terrorist who flew an airplane into a building on American soil. The year prior, shortly after President Obama’s inauguration, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said if the Democratic majority didn’t allow Republicans to influence policy debates, the GOP would have to emulate the “insurgency” tactics of “the Taliban.” Sessions, a member of the Republican leadership, added, “[W]e need to understand that insurgency may be required,” and that if Democrats resist, Republicans “will then become an insurgency.” The Taliban, he went on to say, offer the GOP a tactical “model.”

I’m not sure how far Biden pushed the rhetorical envelope if Republicans have compared themselves to terrorists. Was what Biden allegedly said that much worse than what Sessions said about his own party?

Tell you what, August is often a time for larger, meta-style public debates, so maybe there should be a national discussion about this. Would the RNC welcome the debate? Maybe the media should present the public with “both sides”: reasons why the Republicans’ hostage strategy and threats to hurt the country on purpose were similar to terrorist tactics, and reasons their efforts were dissimilar?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on August 02, 2011 8:47 AM:

    Well, I prefer nihilists and/or anarchists.

    But, yeah, they DO at times act like terrorists.

    They just held the whole economy hostage?

    What does that make them, BABYSITTERS?

    Republicans:
    The truth hurts.

  • Danp on August 02, 2011 8:48 AM:

    Maybe the media should present the public with “both sides”:

    And isn't that the fallacy of the conventional wisdom that the media merely reports, "he said, she said, you decide." The truth is they only do that when the Republican argument is absurd.

  • toowearyforoutrage on August 02, 2011 8:48 AM:

    Terrorists hurt innocent people in order to make political figures perform an action they want.

    The Republicans threatened to bankrupt innocent people through rising interest rates, jobs lost due to bankrupt employers, and potentially cause more job losses through diminished liquidity as more cash is fed into debt service instead of commerce.
    John Boehner referred to a default as "jobs killing" so this is no liberal screed.

    Their motives could possibly have been noble in their own confused way, but their actions made them walk like ducks and quack like ducks, so even if Biden said it, the word "like" rendered his epithet entirely accurate.

  • Marko on August 02, 2011 8:51 AM:

    If the shoe fits, wear it.

    What goes around, comes around.

    Pot, meet kettle.

    Yes, let's have this discussion.

  • berttheclock on August 02, 2011 8:52 AM:

    I prefer to call them our American Bader-Meinhoffs.

  • TT on August 02, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Same old, same old: conservatives throw punches, can't take them.

  • SW on August 02, 2011 8:54 AM:

    If Biden apologizes he is crazy. Obama should be using this language in a national address to the public. These people need to be called out. They should double down on it. It is the only way they will be able to put them in their place. The establishment has seen them for what they are. It is time to go for the juggler. You have to have the killer instinct in this business. This is not the time to be intimidated by pearl clutching.

  • Celui on August 02, 2011 8:56 AM:

    tooweary@8:58 is on the money. "Was what Biden allegedly said that much worse than what Sessions said about his own party?" In the words and propaganda of the hostage-takers, it can now be portrayed as anything the terrorists want to portray against teh Administration. Biden's comment here is no more 'at fault' than any of the other comments cited by Benen. Ducks they are!

  • blondie on August 02, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Tell me - if it turns out arson was involved in the burning of the We Are Wisconsin office in LaCrosse (you know, one of the groups leading the recall efforts), can we use the term then?

    The Republigoons will throw up their hands, proclaim their innocence and claim they couldn't know that some unbalanced individual took their words too literally. Tough! We have to find ways to hold them accountable.

  • Holmes on August 02, 2011 9:03 AM:

    McConnell is already out there saying the republicans are going to do the exact same thing in 2013, when the next debt ceiling raise is due.

    Terrorists, nihilists, anarchists, whatever, it's just semantics at this point. These people want to tear down the country.

  • sjw on August 02, 2011 9:05 AM:

    Two comments. First, what's wrong with the characterization and why not embrace it? Yet again the administration wimps out and appears weak.

    Second, Obama dealt with Bin Laden forcefully, but he's Jimmy Carter on Estrogen when it comes to the Republicans. Why this difference, I wonder ...

  • Holmes on August 02, 2011 9:06 AM:

    FWIW, Joe Nocera calls the Tea Party terrorists in today's column.

  • berttheclock on August 02, 2011 9:08 AM:

    By all means, call them out for what they are. Let no one in the Democratic Party develop a Stockholm Syndrome.

  • j on August 02, 2011 9:12 AM:

    Apparently Bill O'Reilly is blaming the left for the entire debt. Tell me - where is that debt clock that we saw rising and rising during the Bush years?

  • Danp on August 02, 2011 9:13 AM:

    if it turns out arson was involved in the burning of the We Are Wisconsin office

    No. Then it's a lone wolf or a deranged individual.

  • david1234 on August 02, 2011 9:15 AM:

    I suspect that in private Republicans consider the comparison to terrorists to be a compliment.

  • Ladyhawke on August 02, 2011 9:19 AM:

    Fareed Zakaria of CNN Global Public Square gets it. He just makes sense. You can view the entire short
    interview at the link below.

    --------------excerpt--------------

    ANDERSON COOPER: Fareed, you say the Tea Party is anti-democratic at this point. And you talked about the polarization that is occurring. How do you mean that they're anti-democratic?

    FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, Anderson, if you think about what's going on, the Tea Party is trying to pass a particular agenda, which is basically this all-cuts budget. It cannot get it through the Congress of the United States. It cannot get it through the political democratic process that we have, which is that Congress passes something and the president must sign it. That's the normal workings of democracy.

    So, instead of accepting some compromise that can get through the democratic process, what they're saying is we'll blow up the country if you don't listen to us. We'll hold hostage the credit of the United States, the good standing of the United States and we'll blow it up.

    Now, that is why even Charles Krauthammer, columnist for The Washington Post, fire-breathing conservative urged today in his column in The Washington Post not to go down this path because he called it "counterconstitutional." In other words, they are not acting in the way that constitutional democracy expects you to act. You are meant to respect the democratic process. You try your best to convince to get a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate and the president to sign it.

    But if you control just one of those three branches of government, you can't hijack the entire system and say I'm going to blow the country up unless you listen to me.

    They have only won one election to one house once.


    http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/01/zakaria-tea-party-held-america-hostage/

  • bleh on August 02, 2011 9:22 AM:

    Must really have hit a nerve, for them to be squealing this loud.

    They often resort to this kind of trick when somebody says something they don't want repeated.

    I like the idea of a conversation. "ARE they terrorists? What does that mean? Did they BEHAVE like terrorists? Are they just a LITTLE like terrorists? Is there any such thing as being a little like a terrorist, or is any terrorist a terrorist? And if the Republicans ARE terrorists -- or behaving like terrorists -- shouldn't something be done to stop them? And even if they aren't terrorists, shouldn't we be concerned by the fact that MANY people have SAID they are? Does that make them a danger? How can we be sure Republicans AREN'T terrorists? Isn't it better to be safe than sorry?"

  • j on August 02, 2011 9:22 AM:

    Reading the JS online this am, in Wisconsin the republicans are getting a ton of money and outspending the dems.
    Wisconsin is ground zero, anything that can be done to help them should be done, whether it is money, help to get out the vote etc, please do it.

  • Robert on August 02, 2011 9:37 AM:

    August 1, 2011
    Tea Party’s War on America
    By JOE NOCERA
    You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.

    These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took.

    Like ideologues everywhere, they scorned compromise. When John Boehner, the House speaker, tried to cut a deal with President Obama that included some modest revenue increases, they humiliated him. After this latest agreement was finally struck on Sunday night — amounting to a near-complete capitulation by Obama — Tea Party members went on Fox News to complain that it only called for $2.4 trillion in cuts, instead of $4 trillion. It was head-spinning.

    All day Monday, the blogosphere and the talk shows mused about which party would come out ahead politically. Honestly, who cares? What ought to matter is not how these spending cuts will affect our politicians, but how they’ll affect the country. And I’m not even talking about the terrible toll $2.4 trillion in cuts will take on the poor and the middle class. I am talking about their effect on America’s still-ailing economy.

    America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse. (Incredibly, the Democrats even abandoned their demand for extended unemployment benefits as part of the deal.) As Mohamed El-Erian, the chief executive of the bond investment firm Pimco, told me, fiscal policy includes both a numerator and a denominator. “The numerator is debt,” he said. “But the denominator is growth.” He added, “What we have done is accelerate forward, in a self-inflicted manner, the numerator. And, in the process, we have undermined the denominator.” Economic growth could have gone a long way toward shrinking the deficit, while helping put people to work. The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.

    Inflicting more pain on their countrymen doesn’t much bother the Tea Party Republicans, as they’ve repeatedly proved. What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. Do they really expect us to buy that? We’ve all heard what happened in 1937 when Franklin Roosevelt, believing the Depression was over, tried to rein in federal spending. Cutting spending spiraled the country right back into the Great Depression, where it stayed until the arrival of the stimulus package known as World War II. That’s the path we’re now on. Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

    One thing Roosevelt did right during the Depression was legislate into being a social safety net to soften the blows that a free-market economy can mete out in tough times. During this recession, it’s as if the government is going out of its way to make sure the blows are even more severe than they have to be. The debt-ceiling debate reflects a harsher, less empathetic America. It’s sad to see.

    My own view is that Obama should have played the 14th Amendment card, using its language about “the validity of the public debt” to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. Yes, he would have infuriated the Republicans, but so what? They already view him as the Antichrist. Legal scholars believe that Congress would not have been able to sue to overturn his decision. Inexplicably, he chose instead a course of action that maximized the leverage of the Republican extremists.

    Assuming the Senate passes the bill on Tuesday, the debt ceiling will be a nonissue until after the next election. But the debilitating deficit battles are by no means over. Thanks to this deal, a newly formed supercommittee of Congress is supposed to target another $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in cuts by late November. If those cuts don’t become law by Dec. 23, automatic across-the-board cuts will be imposed, including deep reductions in defense spending.

    As has been explained ad nauseam, the threat of defense cuts is supposed to give the Republicans an incentive to play fair with the Democrats in the negotiations. But with our soldiers still fighting in Afghanistan, which side is going to blink if the proposed cuts threaten to damage national security? Just as they did with the much-loathed bank bailout, which most Republicans spurned even though financial calamity loomed, the Democrats will do the responsible thing. Apparently, that’s their problem.

    For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.

  • Josef K on August 02, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Take heart: these clowns - lead by the idiot McConnell - will still have opportunity to crash economy when it comes to negotiating the budget. Some kind of overreach is inevitable. They just can't help themselves at this point, and McConnell is already boasting about repeating this performance in the future.

    Its like watching a car crash happening in real time: horrifying, heart-rending when you hear cries of those trapped in the wreckage...yet you can't look away.


  • kevo on August 02, 2011 9:41 AM:

    For many of my Republican friends and loved ones, fear of the terrorists has given way to demonic fear of the government taking their money away and spending it on "those" people!

    WTF - Their new found fear has turned them against their fellow Americans who happen not to be like them. No wonder many of our "conservative" brethren have embraced the bunker mentality - they harbor a delusional fear and seem to be actively fighting the demons the rest of us can't see, or upon seeing such "demons", have wisely ignored!

    The active FOXification
    of our beloved nation
    has come home to roost!

    Three cheers for the rich dolt Murdoch
    phone hacker extraordinaire, and one
    most responsible for the dummies
    who bring us intellectual rot! -Kevo

  • June on August 02, 2011 9:53 AM:

    Okay, Tea Party Republicans -- you're not "terrorists," you're traitors. Either one works just as well for me.

  • berttheclock on August 02, 2011 10:07 AM:

    Last week, I was taken to task by SadOldVet and Danp for saying the Tea Party was a Third Party. Both claimed, they were, simply, one of two parts of the RepuG Choir. I still maintain they are a Third Party, which has taken the RepuGs hostage and, now, our nation. They are old line Ross Perot and Buchanan Libertarisns, who believe in such as "10th Amendment, Common Sense, No Taxes, Very little Government of any kind". They used the RepuG primaries to capture that party. They knew it cost time and money trying to establish themselves as a Third Party on state ballots. They are not part of the choir as they, now, control the Pastor and the church. They turned the despicable Mitch into a Born Again.

    Sort of an extension of the famous "First, they came for the ........and I said nothing..." Just add, the RepuGnant Party to that list and add, now, they come for me" This is an internal Terrorist group of the worst sort.

  • berttheclock on August 02, 2011 10:11 AM:

    As Howard Fineman said, last night, Obama never realized who he was trying to negotiate with in his meetings. He, never, realized the new power takeover of the RepuGnant Party by the Tea Party.

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 02, 2011 10:42 AM:

    It's past time for people to use accurate words to define the ultra right conservatives of the Republican party. Krugman stepped up, Zakaria stepped up. Where is everyone else? Most of the media and a lot of the blogosphere continue to perpetuate the false idea that there are 2 rational sides to the argument and Obama is at fault for not winning. Leaving the label of "terrorist" out of the discourse accomplishes nothing. Another thing...I'm really sick of hearing how these buffoons believe they are acting on behalf of the country. They are pathetically deficient, biased and their fund of knowledge would fit on the head of a pin. Their interest is purely self-interest as Walsh, their poster boy reflects.

    Fight voter suppression, organizing for progressive candidates and stop trying to blame. Stop whining about how Obama can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. You are playing right into Koch brothers’ hands.

  • jpeckjr on August 02, 2011 11:04 AM:

    If they're terrorists, can we detain them, imprison them in Guantanomo, deny them a fair trial, and torture them until they reveal the names of the money people?

    That's what GWBush did with terrorists.

    So can we? Please?

    Captcha: ornewit tco4 -- And Newt, too!

  • Stephen Stralka on August 02, 2011 12:16 PM:

    Personally I hope he did call them terrorists. Not because I think they literally are terrorists, but because it shows that Biden gets how extreme these people are.

    And I assume it's true, because Biden isn't a stupid man. And Obama's even less stupid, I think, which is why I find it strange that so many people seriously imagine that he just does't get what kind of people he's dealing with here. I mean, Obama and Biden don't just read about these people in the news or watch them on TV, they work with them.

    I've thought about all of the complaints about Obama's negotiating style, and I'm not going to say he's done everything personally, but the way his strategy makes most sense to me is if he knows he's dealing with totally intransigent crazy people.

    That would explain why he hasn't just demanded a clean bill, for instance, as so many have demanded. What if is quite certain that a clean bill would never pass in the House? Are you going to say he just doesn't get what kind of people he's dealing with?

  • Rasputin22 on August 02, 2011 12:21 PM:

    Joe says stuff like this because Obama needs to maintain a civil front. It's part of his job.

    I'm glad he said it. The sheer entertainment value of the responses from the right have been priceless.

  • Neo on August 02, 2011 12:36 PM:

    (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the United States Monday of living beyond its means "like a parasite" on the global economy and said dollar dominance was a threat to the financial markets.
    "They are living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy," Putin told the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi while touring its lakeside summer camp some five hours drive north of Moscow.
    "They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar," Putin said at the open-air meeting with admiring young Russians in what looked like early campaigning before parliamentary and presidential polls.

    An obvious "Tea Party" fellow-traveller

  • Texas Aggie on August 02, 2011 1:48 PM:

    “does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.”

    however accurate it may be. Maybe from now on instead of being the "T" party, they can become the "Terrorist" or "Traitor" party. That works for me.

  • Michael Ross on August 02, 2011 2:21 PM:

    Rod Paige W's Education Secretary branded the National Education
    Association a terrorist group at a governors convention in Feb 2004

  • TCinLA on August 02, 2011 2:34 PM:

    Not only are they terrorists, they are traitors.

  • Sam on August 02, 2011 2:41 PM:

    But accusing Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists" during a campaign event is just fine.

  • Tom Dibble on August 02, 2011 3:03 PM:


    First, I agree with the above comments. Call it like it is: these guys have acted exactly like terrorists, threatening to destroy the entire economy to get their particular pet projects enacted.

    The other metaphor in play is a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. The problem with that metaphor is that these loons have far more power than a two-year-old, and are willing to cause much more damage than just to themselves.

    I do have to take exception to the wording of this part of the article, however: Last year, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he could “empathize” with a terrorist who flew an airplane into a building on American soil.

    Okay, I know yo are talking about the guy who flew his little plane into an IRS building to protest paying taxes. But, why the caginess? Are you trying to get people to think he was "empathizing" with the 9/11 terrorists? You're better than that. Give the full context and let the facts speak for themselves.

  • Civil Disobedience on August 02, 2011 3:53 PM:

    Webster's definition of "Terrorist": A radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities.

    Even more interesting is the DoD's definition for Military Personnel: "An individual who uses violence, terror, and intimidation to achieve a result."

    So... lets see here:
    1) Tea-P'ers "employed terror (economic apocalypse) as a political weapon."
    2) Tea-P'ers "organize with other terrorists in small cells" - hence their "party".
    3) Tea-P'ers "often use religion as a cover for their activities".

    And even based on their precious DoD's definition the same applies...

    No, they weren't using physical violence, (this is an arguable point... economic meltdown would surely have 'physical' manifestations.) but as we've finally learned in the last 50 years, psychological violence is as equally intimidating.

    It's not a political thing... it's a literal application of the English language. Based on the unbiased definition, Tea-P'ers are now terrorists because of their tactics.

  • cornhusker on August 02, 2011 8:05 PM:

    Thom Hartmann reminded everyone today that bin Laden's goal was to bankrupt the country. ...

    Flashback: Bin Laden: Goal is to bankrupt U.S.
    http://articles.cnn.com/2004-11-01/world/binladen.tape_1_al-jazeera-qaeda-bin?_s=PM:WORLD

    Republicans were willing to throw us into default and possibly throwing the world into a deep depression.

    And the difference is?

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