There is big outrage from Republicans after White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said Thursday that the White House was all for budget negotiations, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.” Republicans claimed that Pfeiffer was saying they were terrorists. That’s not really true. A terrorist just, for example, gets on a bus with a bomb and sets it off. This is more akin to a normal extortionist who goes into a bank with a bomb and says, “Give me all your money or I will blow us all up.”
Obama cheerleaders Steve Benen and Greg Sargent both accept the terrorist framing, however. And they think it is wrong for the administration to use such language. But really: aren’t we just splitting hairs regardless? To me, a suicide bomber who kills only one other person is every bit as much a terrorist as the guys who brought the World Trade Center towers down. And there is really no difference between these people who were set on killing people for some political goal and someone who is trying to extort money. After all, the tactic of terrorism is to create a generalized feeling of fear that something bad could happen at any time.
So I’m not sure that what the Republicans are doing is not a form of terrorism. Just look at the images that I’ve been using over the past two years to accompany articles about the Debt Ceiling. They all relate to extortion—the threat of violence if the Republicans don’t get what they want. But regardless of whether Pfeiffer implied that the Republicans were terrorists, his analogy is absolutely correct.
I understand the instinct among people like Sargent and Benen to keep the conversation civilized. But this is a mistake when dealing with extremists. It’s interesting that conservatives are the first people to ridicule anyone who tries to “appease” someone like Assad. That may well be because they understand well that they themselves can’t be appeased. The history of the last five years has shown very clearly that Obama only gets cooperation from the Republicans when he stands strong. When he shows any hint of weakness or any tendency to save them from themselves, they go for the kill. So it is a mistake for any journalists, but liberal journalists most especially, to treat these Republican extortion attempts as anything else.
I don’t understand how the current Republican demand for concessions in exchange for not crashing the economy is different from the bomb carrying bank robber. I’m open to correction. In both cases, however, each party does not want the bad thing to happen. But in order for that not to happen, one part must do things for the other that they would never do under normal (non-extortion) circumstances. It may not be terrorism (and Pfeiffer never said it was), but it is extortion, and it is wrong.