Members of the Tea Party movement have been called a lot of nasty things before like: crazy, extremists, teabaggers, and racists, but in the final hours of the debt ceiling debate, just one month before the ten-year anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, many Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, have been calling Tea Party members the nastiest name yet: terrorists.
Sources in the room told The Politico that in a closed-door meeting of House Democrats with Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) said:
"We have negotiated with terrorists. This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money... “the Tea Party acted like terrorists in threatening to blow up the economy."
After the word was thrown around by angry House Democrats, sources told The Politico that Vice President Joe Biden agreed, saying: "They have acted like terrorists." Biden's office initially declined to remark on what he had said in the meeting, but after the comment was published, a Biden spokeswoman issued a denial, saying:
"The word was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse."
In an interview with CBS News, Biden also denied using "the terrorism word," but told his interviewer that he said "if" Tea Party members were terrorists, the "nuclear weapon" has been taken out of their hands. But remember that despite Biden's (rather weak) denial, The Politico's report cited multiple, Democratic sources in the room who confirmed that Biden had called Tea Party Republicans terrorists, casting an awful lot of suspicion on the vice president's denial.
In addition to "several" House Democrats as confirmed by the office of the vice president, and likely the vice president himself, members of the media have also been using the word "terrorist" in recent days to describe the Tea Party. Three days before The Politico broke the Biden story, one of its opinion columnists wrote a piece entitled "The Tea Party's Terrorist Tactics," opining:
"It has become commonplace to call the tea party faction in the House 'hostage takers.' But they have now become full-blown terrorists," adding that, "Terrorism is a tough term, but, unfortunately, it describes tea party tactics precisely."
On the day the Biden story broke, a New York Times columnist published a piece entitled "The Tea Party's War on America," which begins:
"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 goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took."
The next day at Salon, as if the word "terrorist" weren't bad enough, a columnist argued that the Tea Party consists of radical, white, southern Neo-Confederates who would not hesitate to "destroy American democracy in order to get their way." This is in addition to House Democrats who have also been using the word "Satan" in describing negotiations with House Republicans, with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) calling the debt ceiling deal a "Satan sandwich" and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi adding "with a side of Satan fries."
As the debt ceiling debate came to a final close, Tea Party members were also called "arsonists," "saboteurs," and "extortionists" by Democratic politicians and journalists. It's sufficiently evident that the use of this new "terrorist" smear isn't merely the angry ranting of a couple amateur bloggers, but a widespread phenomenon originating at some of the highest levels in electoral politics and news media. And it's not the first time the Tea Party has been falsely and unfairly associated with acts of violence or terrorism.
This January, when a gunman in Arizona murdered six people and critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in a tragic shooting massacre, Democrats in the media rushed to blame the Tea Party for inciting the violence with vitriolic rhetoric. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman led the charge, blaming Republicans for fomenting "a climate of hate." Many bloggers directly accused Sarah Palin of inciting the murder attempt on Giffords with a map of targets on Democratic House districts vulnerable to Republican challenges in the 2010 midterm elections. DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas tweeted "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin."
As it turned out, the rush to judgment was patently false. Despite the perverse hopes of the progressive blogosphere, the shooter wasn't a Tea Party member, a Republican, a devotee of Glenn Beck, or even a self-described conservative. His writings indicated if anything, a sympathy for progressive politics, but most of all, simply the deranged mind of a clinically insane young man. After the rush to associate the Tea Party with this massacre, I wrote:
"Note the date and times of these wild accusations. As soon as the tragic news broke, and before any clear details or evidence of the gunman's possible motivation had emerged, progressives swiftly and reflexively moved to hold Sarah Palin and the Tea Party responsible. Conspicuously absent, was the level-headed, fact-based, critical thinking, unmarred by prejudice, that so many progressives insist they exemplify."
Immediately following this smear campaign were calls for more tempered rhetoric in politics, along with a strident insistence that "martial metaphors" were to blame for the shooting, and should be forever discarded from political discussions. Giving a speech to help the nation heal, President Obama called for "more civility in our public discourse." Does it strike anyone as ironic that mere months later so many Democrats are calling Tea Party members "terrorists" over a budget disagreement? Or even more ironic that this rhetoric has been bandied about as Gabrielle Giffords, still in recovery from the shooting, took to the House floor for the first time since her attack to cast a vote on the debt ceiling bill?
The disappointing irony was not lost on the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, who wrote:
"I hate the 'if this were Bush' game so we’re in luck. Instead imagine if this was Dick Cheney calling the Progressive Caucus (or whatever they’re called) a 'bunch of terrorists' on the day Giffords returned to the Congress. Would the mainstream media notice or care? Would Meet the Press debate whether this raises 'troubling questions' about the White House’s sensitivity?"
It's time for progressives to stand up and disavow this kind of rhetoric. By no possible stretch of the imagination is it fair or accurate to compare Tea Party members to terrorists for believing the federal government is borrowing too much money and that the national debt is hurting the economy. The Tea Party is committed to curtailing the size, role, and influence of the federal government, which it believes spends too much and too inefficiently. It is possible to disagree with their position without absurdly and insultingly comparing them to the kind of people who murdered thousands of Americans ten years ago on 9-11.
It's time for progressives to listen to President Obama's own words in 2009, when he said:
"We have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name-calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people’s motives."