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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dealing with Terrorists
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

A slight glimmer of good news today is that an increasing number of commentators and high-level Democrats are unafraid to use the word "terrorism" to describe Republican tactics on the debt ceiling. For instance, here's Joe Nocera today in the New York Times:

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...

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.

And Joe Biden, courtesy of Politico:
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.

The "terrorism" rhetoric from Democrats is a day late and a dollar short, of course. Results are all that matter, and cynical observers might be inclined to see this sort of language as part of the kabuki act, an attempt to appease liberal voters after giving away half of the entire discretionary spending budget.

Still, the recent willingness to call a spade a spade is a good sign, a flicker of hope in an ocean of darkness. But better still would be action to take away the terrorists' tools. Joan McCarter aptly highlighted the conservative intent, clearly outlined by both Mitch McConnell and Grover Norquist, that the Republicans intend to use the debt ceiling as a tool to hold the nation hostage to their extremist will:

MCCONNELL: It set the template for the future. In the future, Neil, no president—in the near future, maybe in the distant future—is going to be able to get the debt ceiling increased without a re-ignition of the same discussion of how do we cut spending and get America headed in the right direction. I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.

The longest-lasting impact of this whole farce has been to create yet another structural impediment to progressive change in Washington. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson describe this sort of thing in their tremendous new book Winner-Take-All Politics as a "ratchet effect": hidden, arcane structural effects whose result is to create nearly unstoppable advantages for big business, and insurmountable obstacles economic justice for the American People. Other ratchets include the filibuster, unequal vote apportionment in the Senate, "phased out" tax cuts that never really phase out, changes to the way unemployment is calculated, etc.

Now the debt ceiling can be added to that list as perhaps one of the biggest, most important such ratchets of all time.

These ratchets are the tools of the GOP terrorist trade. If Democrats are actually serious about countering this sort of terrorist activity instead of just talking about it, they will move to eliminate as many of these structural hurdles as possible. That should already have happened with the broken filibuster rule, but Senate Democrats didn't have the guts to pull the trigger on it.

The debt ceiling ratchet is an existential crisis for progressives and for the nation. If the GOP is allowed to continue to use this ratchet, the nation will never be able to make the infrastructure investments it needs. That means actually following through on the 14th Amendment solution Joe Biden originally threatened, even at the expense of expanded Executive power. The debt ceiling has always been somewhat preposterous: how is it Constitutional to have to approve debt for spending that has already been approved? Isn't that pretty much the definition of calling into question the "full faith and credit of the United States?"

If Democrats are actually serious about their recent rhetoric, they will need to nip the terrorists in the bud by removing this latest ratchet from their arsenal.

Update: Or maybe not. Always count on Democrats backing off once they start to gain rhetorical momentum:

As we covered yesterday, meeting with anxious House Democrats yesterday, the Vice President heard from Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., who said “the Tea Party acted like terrorists in threatening to blow up the economy.”

Doyle used the term several times. What happened next is in dispute. Several sources told Politico that the Vice President responded by saying, “they have acted like terrorists.”

Other sources told ABC News that the vice president said something along the lines of “if they have acted like terrorists, we’re taking the nuclear weapon away from them.”

The Vice President told CBS News’ Scott Pelley, "I did not use the terrorism word…What happened was there were some people who said they felt like they were being held hostage by terrorists. I never said that they were terrorists or weren't terrorists, I just let them vent. I said, ‘Even if that were the case, what's been happening when you now have taken and paid the debt and move that down so we can now discuss, the nuclear weapon's been taken out of anyone's hands.’"

One reporter today asked White House press secretary Jay Carney about reports that the Veep had used the term, wondering if “the president thinks that's appropriate discourse?”

“No, he doesn't, and neither does the vice president,” Carney said. “And I think the vice president spoke to this and made clear that he didn't say those words, and I think the congressman in question has said that he regrets using them.”

I have no doubt that Biden actually said it, because it's truth, and because Joe Biden is known to speak his mind.

But the Village pearl clutchers would tut tut at the use of such (accurate) incendiary language. We can't be having that, of course.