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A U.S. flag flies at the Capitol July 30, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Members of the Congress continued to debate on the debt ceiling plan. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A U.S. flag flies at the Capitol July 30, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Members of the Congress continued to debate on the debt ceiling plan. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Neil Reynolds

Democrats shame themselves with terrorist rhetoric Add to ...

Nobel Prize economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took it hard when the Republicans negotiated a better deal than the Democrats in the debt ceiling crisis. He accused Republicans of criminal conduct - "raw extortion" and "blackmail" - and blamed what he called "right-wing extremists" for the 11th-hour pact that prevented the U.S. from defaulting, in one way or another, on its debt. Indeed, he wasn't sure that American democracy could long survive. "Maybe," he said, "it can't." For his part, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman described the dissident Republicans as "the Hezbollah faction" of the GOP, intent on "a suicide mission."

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Mr. Krugman and Mr. Friedman weren't alone in violent apocalyptic lamentation. CNN host Fareed Zakaria deplored the "hijacking" of the nation by Tea Party legislators, presumably meaning the 66 Republicans who voted Monday against the bipartisan debt ceiling deal (as opposed to the 95 Democrats who voted against it). Mr. Zakaria denounced the Republicans as "fundamentally anti-democratic."

"The Tea Party has an agenda," he said. "It cannot get [its agenda]through the democratic process [so it has said that]'we'll blow up the country if you don't listen to us.' " He compared these Republicans to hostage takers and stridently accused them of treason: "They were not elected dictators of the United States." And: "It's a national emergency, almost like a war."

Then there's William Yeomans, a professor at American University's Washington College Law School in Washington. For Prof. Yeomans, the Tea Party Republicans went beyond criminal conduct. "They have now become full-blown terrorists," he said in commentary published in Politico. "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."

Then there's Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek, who told MSNBC that Republicans "are the suicide bombers in all of this." And Hardball host Chris Matthews, who asked his MSNBC audience whether Republicans were willing to "risk economic Armageddon" in the name of their religion. "The GOP," he declared, "has become the Wahhabis of American government, willing to bring the whole country down."

Then there's former Democratic president Bill Clinton, who said in the closing days of the crisis that he - were he president again - would have invoked an obscure clause in the 14th amendment to the Constitution and lifted the debt ceiling limit by presidential decree.

He would have done so, he said, "in a heartbeat." It's a good thing Mr. Clinton is not president now - for such an action would surely have led to a call for his impeachment for a second time. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole authority to tax and sole authority to borrow.

Then there's Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Vice-President Joe Biden, both of whom used war criminal rhetoric to describe a perfectly democratic House vote. Mr. Doyle did so in an interesting way: "We have negotiated with terrorists," he said. "This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money."

Mr. Biden, who subsequently regretted the violent imagery, nevertheless found it expedient to embellish it - reportedly telling Senate Democrats that Republican leaders "put guns to our heads."

And then there's Martin Frost, an obscure Democratic functionary, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who explicitly took the terrorist rhetoric to its furthest limit, essentially connecting it to 9/11. "We now have a group of U.S. politicians seeking political purity, who seem to have much in common with the Taliban. They … seem intent on destroying what American political leaders have constructed in more than two centuries of hard, painful work."

By this standard, American democracy would never have come into existence. Are George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, all of them laissez-faire guys committed to limited government, morally comparable to the "hijackers" who took down the Twin Towers in the worst "terrorist" act of the 21st Century, killing 3,000 men, women and children? It is a preposterous and shameful misuse of metaphor - and an astonishing example of a panicked herd caught in mid-stampede. Let's hope that America's liberal intelligentsia and its liberal media relax their stalking points a bit before they go over the cliff.

 

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