While I do not regard myself as a “tea-partier” (indeed, I’m not even sure I know what one is), my own sense is that the House Republicans have operated throughout the “debt-ceiling” debate off two premises. The first is that they knew they had the stronger hand politically and they used it to their advantage. This is generally known as “politics,” and both parties do it. It is a matter of some indifference. The second, and this is more interesting to me, is that they forced the Congress, and indeed the country, to do some much needed soul-searching regarding federal spending, and that delaying such decisions couldn’t be done indefinitely through a combination of increased debt and taxation.
For this, they have been accused in the more liberal media as being “extremists” who mean to harm the country. But in today’s NYTimes, Joe Nocera ratchets up the rhetoric another level or 20, accusing the tea-partiers of being “terrorists” who are waging “jihad” on America. Now, I suspect that Nocera would not be likely to use these terms to describe actual terrorists who are engaged in genuine acts of jihad, but that aside I worry about such intemperate usage. If he genuinely believes that House Republicans will soon be putting “suicide vests” back on in an attempt to destroy the country, what is to prevent Nocera or persons of his ilk from moving pre-emptively and, well, killing these individuals before they can get their vests on? Either his language is so incendiary as to be positively irresponsible, for it confuses the meaning of both the genuine threat of terrorism and substantive political agreement while demonizing one’s fellow citizens, or he genuinely believes what he says, in which case he would have an obligation to eliminate his opponents either through incarceration or war. Does he really believe that the greatest threat to the country are those who don’t believe in the dogmas of Keynes? Can you imagine how the Times would have reacted if, during the campaign of 2008, a conservative pundit had referred to Obama and his followers as “jihadist terrorists”?
There is something disturbingly ugly about all this, and I confess it has me nervous. The faultlines in this country seem to me to be deepening, and the conceit that these chasmic divisions can peacefully co-exist ever more tenuous. For all their moral posturing, it seems to me the rhetoric of those on the left has been even more hate-filled and vitriolic than that on the right (although, granted, they just lost the recent battle), although there is plenty to go around. I’m not sure America is any longer governable, and I’m quite convinced that a potent combination of class resentments and moral/cultural disagreements is a-brewing, with potentially violent consequences.