When Is Not Yielding to Extortion as Bad as Extortion?

Boehner with Uncle Sam as HostageJonathan Chait has an excellent article about recent Republican history that has brought us to this moment, The House GOP’s Legislative Strike. In it, he talks about the Republican retreat after the Fiscal Cliff fiasco. The result was “The Williamsburg Accord.” It basically said that the Republicans were going to take their ball and go home. At that time they decided that they would no longer negotiate with the president. But it was later expanded to not negotiating with the Senate as well. To sum up, “The way to make sense of it is that Republicans have planned since January to force Obama to accede to large chunks of the Republican agenda, without Republicans having to offer any policy concessions of their own.” And that leads us here.

But now we are left with the usual idiots in the mainstream media completely falling for the Republican gambit. Think of it as follows—and note that I do not think this is an exaggeration. Imagine two guys own a paper towel business. One of them decides that the business should stop making paper towels and instead make paper napkins. So he refuses to pay the employees unless the first owner agrees to change the business. Now, maybe they should change the business. But that has nothing to do with paying the employees who have been and currently are working for them.

Many (Too many!) in the mainstream press would have us believe that both of these owners are being unreasonable. The first guy should give some ground and the second guy should take less (like maybe half their operations changing to paper napkins). But that’s a false choice. By this argument, the first guy could say that he wants to change the business to making toilet paper or the employees don’t get paid. So these “why can’t we all just get along” pseudo-journalists are saying that whoever behaves badly and makes unreasonable demands should be appeased. “Hitler wants Poland so let’s give him Czechoslovakia!” Of course, when it is put that way, these same people would call foul.

The situation could not be any clearer. The Republicans are extorting not just the Democratic Party but the people of the United States. The Republicans did not get what they wanted through the normal democratic processes, so they have resorted to blackmail. And notice: this is nothing nothing nothing to do with the budget. The House Republicans big demand is that the medical device tax be eliminated from Obamacare. This means that the federal deficit will increase! And stupid me: I thought that the Republicans wanted to reduce the deficit. (Just kidding; I never thought that!)

I still don’t think that this is going to end well for the Republicans. But thus far, it is all going according to plan. The Republicans have refused to negotiate with the Democrats and so they’ve created the crises they desired. And now much of the media are cursing both sides as though not giving into extortion is as bad as extortion itself. But I think that the people of the United States are smarter than these so-called journalists. I keep going back to the vice-presidential debate last year. Ryan claimed that Obama cut Medicare. Biden countered with a great line, “Folks: use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!” The same holds here. When all is said and done, the people will know who to blame for the government shutdown because they know which party hates the government: the Republicans. They are very clear about their hatred—at least when it is helping anyone but the rich.


To answer the question in the title: not yielding to extortion is as bad as extortion when you are a reporter who cares only about being even handed and not at all about being objective.

Update (30 September 2013 1:45 pm)

I’m way behind on my Matt Yglesias reading, so I just came upon a great short article of his, If Vladimir Putin Threatens To Nuke Houston, Should Obama Negotiate With Him?

The whole reason Obama neither will nor can negotiate with John Boehner is that Boehner has the equivalent of the The Bomb. He’s threatening the destruction of the American financial system unless Obama implements policies that he favors. The government of Iran doesn’t have the power to make a similar threat, but the government of Russia does. Vladimir Putin could hold a press conference tomorrow and say that nuclear-armed ballistic missiles will destroy Houston, Chicago, and Indianapolis tomorrow unless Obama agrees to his list of demands.

Would it be reasonable for Obama to open a negotiation on those terms? Of course not! The content of the demands isn’t even relevant. The threat is too crazy to indulge. You simply observe that such an attack would trigger a counteract and lead to tragedy on a global scale. Then you have to hope the Russians come to their senses, because if they don’t something awful is going to happen.

I couldn’t say it better myself. And I didn’t!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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