Politics

09.30.13

Republicans Aren’t Hostage Takers, They’re Political Terrorists

Today’s Republicans will never release the hostage—instead they’re intent on taking down Obama, and they don’t care if they go down with him, says Michael Tomasky as we head toward a shutdown.

Back in the late 1970s, Richard Pryor had a routine where he gave a rundown on the various factions he’d encountered inside prison. There were the black Muslims, he said. They were fairly rough customers. Then there were the Double Muslims. The Double Muslims, he said, “can’t wait to get to Allah, and they wanna take a bunch of muthafukkas with them.”

Pryor obviously wasn’t talking about today’s Republicans, but he was describing them better than they’ve been described anywhere. They know they’re going to bear the brunt of the blame if the government shuts down—at least some of them do, the ones who have the ability to think beyond the boundaries of their districts. And the thing is, they don’t care. As long as they can drag Obama and the Democrats down with them, dropping in the polls is fine by them. And that’s why we’re in this situation. We have here people who are participating in the democratic process, and who respect certain of its rules and practices because they know they must to attain legitimacy in the eyes of the public and the media, but who at the end of the day—and the end of the day means now—operate and act with the mentality of Pryor’s Double Muslims; which is to say, the mentality of terrorists.

It’s naive to call them anything else. What they’re doing here is not hostage taking, the most commonly used metaphor in the media. It’s political terrorism. When hostage takers see that their demands are met, they release the hostage. But what makes anyone think today’s Republicans will ever release the hostage? No—if the Democrats agree to negotiate, the demands will never stop. Every pivot point on the legislative calendar will be an opportunity to make demands without precedent in our system.

And they won’t care how much they sink in the polls, as long as Obama sinks too. And he will. Not as much as they will. In a recent CNBC poll, 59 percent of those surveyed said they opposed defunding Obamacare if such a move was attached to a government shutdown. Sub in delaying, as defunding is evidently off the table now; I don’t know what that number would be, but probably not very different. So they’re going to take a hit nationally. Of course, the majority of them are probably going to see their personal numbers go up within their own districts if there’s a shutdown, because they stood up to the Kenyan, and in their districts, that’s all that matters. But nationally, the GOP brand is going to take a big hit in the event of a shutdown.

And they don’t care. As long as they can drag Obama down with them, they’ll take the hit. This is exactly the mentality of the suicide bomber. I will die, but I’m taking some infidels with me. And to them and to their base, Obama is the biggest infidel of all and Obamacare the greatest impiety. Whatever they can do to traduce him is worth doing.

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It's a battle that's been raging for years: John Boehner vs. President Obama in the fiscal face-off.

There’s no surer way to get away with criminality than to accuse your political opponents of exactly the criminality that you are committing.

It doesn’t stop there. The complete psychological profile of this GOP also must reference the totalitarian mind. Here I refer to the common totalitarian tactic of accusing the enemy of doing exactly what the totalitarian himself is doing. Every totalitarian dictator from Stalin on down has employed this tactic regularly. There’s no surer way to get away with criminality than to accuse your political opponents of exactly the criminality that you are committing, to get the people looking the other way.

And so of course John Boehner said over the weekend that the Senate, if it fails to accept the House’s terms, “will be deliberately bringing the nation to the brink of a government shutdown for the sake of raising taxes on seniors’ pacemakers and children’s hearing aids.” And of course whip Kevin McCarthy said, “We will not shut the government down.” And of course Sen. Rand Paul said: “We are the party that’s willing to compromise. They are the party that says, no way, we’re not touching Obamacare.”

You don’t even need to have read Orwell to know these are quasi-totalitarian statements that depend on obfuscation, rely on the gullibility of the listening public. The obfuscators all know very well that most Americans won’t stop to realize that their position is a scandal to begin with. They’re trying to undo a law that was duly passed and then upheld by the Supreme Court, as if that were normal in American politics, as if it should be considered an acceptable tactic on its face. And they know that ... some Americans (I don’t think most, in this case) will stupidly and dismissively assign equal blame to both sides.

That’s what we’re dealing with. These people are not small-d democrats. The giveaway is how excessively they claim the language of democracy, how fully they wrap themselves in the flag, the Founders, the Gadsden motto, and the fife and drum. If you know you’re a democrat, you don’t have to go around trying to prove it. Whereas if you know deep down you’re not, that’s exactly when you start invoking the Founders all the time. It’s the same reason child molesters join the priesthood or the Boy Scouts. It’s cover. (Or, in the case of the priesthood, it used to be.)

Boehner can change this dynamic. He can accept a “clean” continuing resolution on Monday and let it pass with mostly Democratic votes. That’s the only way to avert a shutdown. The Democrats won’t budge, and they shouldn’t. You don’t renegotiate existing laws while one party has dynamite strapped to its chest. But there’s nothing in Boehner’s past to suggest that he’ll do the reasonable thing. He caves to the extremists all the time. He did it this weekend, and he’ll probably do it again on Monday night. And the government will be shut down. And the GOP will take most of the blame, but for now at least, they won’t care. Double Muslims never do.