2011-07-29 "The tea party's terrorist tactics" by William Yeomans
It has become commonplace to call the tea party faction in the House “hostage takers.” But they have now become full-blown terrorists.
They have joined the villains of American history who have been sufficiently craven to inflict massive harm on innocent victims to achieve their political goals. A strong America has always stood firm in the face of terrorism. That tradition is in jeopardy, as Congress and President Barack careen toward an uncertain outcome in the tea party- manufactured debt crisis.
As we stumble closer to Aug. 2, it has become clear that many in the tea party are willing to inflict massive harm on the American people to obtain their political objective of a severely shrunken federal government. Their persistence in rejecting compromise, even as the economic effects of the phony crisis they have created mount, has taken their radicalism beyond tough negotiating, beyond even hostage-taking.
As markets fall in anticipation that there may not be a timely resolution; as credit agencies issue dire warnings that the U.S. political system has become so dysfunctional that a credit downgrade may be inevitable, and as America looks weakened in the eyes of the world, the tea party’s hostage-taking has evolved into the intentional infliction of harm on innocent Americans to achieve a political objective – terrorism.
Terrorism is a tough term, but, unfortunately, it describes tea party tactics precisely. Their first step was to vow not to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Here, as in many radical factions, there was a split between the purists and the pragmatists. Pragmatists vowed not to raise the ceiling unless draconian cuts were made in the federal government.
Purists didn’t bother with an “unless.” They, including presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.), were willing to let the entire edifice come crashing down — hiding behind magical thinking that allowed them to deny that anything horrible would happen if the ceiling were not raised.
Out of this vow grew the phony linkage between raising the debt ceiling and addressing the deficit. Raising the debt ceiling, of course, has nothing to do with addressing the deficit. It simply allows the federal government to pay debts that have already been incurred, based on expenditures that Congress has already authorized.
It lets the federal government pay its bills – an act of basic responsibility that every American — conservative and liberal — should embrace. Raising the ceiling is a pro forma act that Congress has performed repeatedly through Republican and Democratic administrations. Every president – from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton – has labeled failure to raise it unthinkable, because to do so would be to intentionally inflict harm on America.
The harm is, in part, unknowable because we have always resisted any temptation to run the experiment of failing to raise the ceiling. Even if the federal government could avoid default on its loan obligations for an uncertain time, the harm would be immense. The president would have to prioritize federal expenditures, choosing whether to send Social Security checks, pay federal employees ranging from FBI agents to food inspectors to troops in the field, make Medicare payments, provide for veterans, collect taxes and on and on.
Even in the absence of default, credit agencies would almost surely downgrade our credit worthiness, producing increases in interest rates that would slow the economy, increase unemployment and force families into foreclosure and bankruptcy.
As the markets dropped, families would watch their retirement and education savings and their dreams disappear.
Rather than reject the unthinkable, the tea party harnessed this potential harm as its weapon of mass destruction.
For pragmatists, it allowed a hostage-taking. The pragmatists threatened to defeat a raise in the debt ceiling unless Congress and President Barack Obama rejected taxes on the wealthy and accepted budget cuts that would move the country toward the tea party’s idealized vision of an America. Their dream is an alternate version of the United States — before the New Deal, the Great Society and civil rights laws alleviated massive inequality and injustice — and extended American opportunity.
The tea party faction could not achieve these goals through straight up democratic means because of their unpopularity. So it resorted to its threat of mass destruction. They were able to do so because they formed a disciplined bloc that gave them leverage over the House leadership and because of the threat that members who did not go along would face primary challenges from the right.
Hard-core tea party members were empowered by their oft-repeated disdain for reelection. They were liberated to pursue their radical course because they were freed from the traditional constraint on members of Congress, imposed by the need to face the voters.
Their goals were also served by the Republican Party’s success in selling the notion that the country faces an urgent debt crisis. Nearly every economist agrees that we face a long-term debt problem, but there is no reason it must be addressed by Aug. 2.
The concern that our credit may be downgraded if we don’t enact an immediate debt reduction plan is driven almost entirely by the loss of credibility in our political system — engendered by the phony frenzy surrounding the debt ceiling legislation.
While most economists agree that we need to address long-term debt issues, many recognize that our immediate crisis is high unemployment and economic stagnation, conditions that will most likely be exacerbated by sucking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy in the short-term.
The challenge for America is to stand firm in the face of terrorism, no matter the source.
Tea party members must reassess their distorted vision of patriotism and join true patriots in Congress in raising the debt ceiling promptly until 2013, without inflicting further economic harm on already struggling Americans.
The president should insist on a clean debt ceiling bill, Congress should get it to him — as it has dozens of times in the past — and the president should sign it promptly. So the nation can get on with addressing the truly significant problems that it faces.