Among the things we learned during this week's debt ceiling debacle is that Republicans in general and their Tea Party hardliners in particular don't like to be called "hostage-takers" and "terrorists." While Sarah Palin called Vice President Biden's alleged use of the T-word "appalling," Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA) suggested it was the Obama administration "who's terrorizing the country." These thin-skinned conservatives might want to save their venom for their fellow Republicans. After all, it wasn't just George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary who compared the Republican default deniers to "Al Qaeda terrorists." As it turns out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell not only admitted his GOP took the U.S. economy hostage to create the debt ceiling crisis, but pledged to do so again.
On Friday, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera
apologized for his earlier characterization of the Tea Party
as "terrorists" who will have "their suicide vests" on again soon. Before issuing his statement of contrition, he would have done well to check in with former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill
. As the GOP's post-midterm strategy
to extort draconian spending cuts in exchange for the boosting the debt ceiling became clear this spring, O'Neill warned in April:
"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 by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk."
After Congress passed the debt ceiling compromise this week, Mitch McConnell essentially confirmed
O'Neill's assessment. The only difference among Republican hostage-takers, McConnell seemed to suggest, was that some were more than willing to kill the hostage. As the Washington Post
"I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."
McConnell, the Post revealed, "said he could imagine doing this again." And as he explained to CNBC's Larry Kudlow, McConnell's future hostage-taking isn't a threat, but a promise:
"What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order."
Of course, this GOP version of war as politics by other means is particularly ironic for Mitch McConnell's Republican Party
. Leave aside for the moment that small government icon Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and signed 17 debt ceiling increases into law. (That might explain why the Gipper repeatedly demanded Congress boost his borrowing authority and called the oceans of red ink he bequeathed to America his greatest regret.) As it turns out, Republican majorities voted seven times to raise the debt ceiling under President Bush and the current GOP leadership team voted a combined 19 times to bump the debt limit $4 trillion during his tenure. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.)
Of course, they had to. After all, the two unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 (the first war-time tax cut in modern U.S. history) and the Medicare prescription drug program drained the U.S. Treasury and doubled the national debt. And Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor voted for all of it.
The Republicans' aversion to being branded "terrorists" may just be simple projection. After all, over Iraq strategy and detainee policy George W. Bush, John Boehner and his predecessor Dennis Hastert said Democrats "gingerly pamper the terrorists." Meanwhile, Sarah Palin not only echoed John McCain's slander that "Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign," but continues to insist that President Obama "pals around with terrorists." (Abortion clinic bombers are another matter; as Palin explained to NBC's Brian Williams in the fall of 2008, "I don't know if you're going to use the word terrorist there.")
For its part, the White House rejected the use of the T-word by anybody. Asked if it was appropriate to deem a political opponent a terrorist, White House press secretary Jay Carney responded:
"It's not. The Vice President doesn't think so, the President doesn't think so. Any kind of comments like that are simply not conducive to the kind of political discourse that we hope to have."
After S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating in response to the recent debt ceiling "brinksmanship," GOP leaders and the 2012 Republican White House hopefuls alike were quick to denounce President Obama. That, too, is more than a little ironic. After all, Speaker Boehner said last month, "This debt limit increase is [Obama's] problem." When he was warned that his own debt reduction plan would not satisfy rating agencies, Boehner said, "That is beyond my control." After this week's compromise, Boehner crowed, "I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I'm pretty happy" Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and most of the GOP field all opposed raising the debt ceiling this week.
That may not be terrorism. But it is rank hypocrisy - and extremely dangerous.
* Crossposted at Perrspectives *