On Gratuitous Invocations of “Terrorists”: Or, How Joe Biden Broke Jonah Goldberg’s Brain

…such as it is.

Goldberg, the boy who cried “Nazi,” flies into a rage over Democratic lawmakers’ reference to congressional Republicans as “hostage-takers,” budgetary “terrorists,” etc., and the media’s relative silence, compared to their heightened interest in recent overwrought Republican zealotry. Why the double standard, he asks?

Because Republicans call Democrats “terrorists” all the damn time. Biden’s quip hasn’t gotten coverage because we’re just used to it from the other side of the aisle. That’s sad, and feels true. But: examples, please?

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A fair request. I set out to write this post wondering how hard it would be to dredge up quotes of Republicans calling their fellow citizens — especially Democrats — terrorists, disloyal, un-American, etcetera, based only on those citizens’ failure to subscribe to the GOP’s vision of a white, straight, upper-class Christian America. Probably pretty hard. I mean, we can start with Michael Savage (“The Enemy Within,” which casts all liberals as traitors) and Ann Coulter (“Treason,” same). Then there’s always Glenn Beck (who says Obama is “sympathetic” to terrorist causes) and Rush Limbaugh. The latter, of course, claims that Democrats actually are terrorists! But after that, where would I look?

Well, there’s also President Bush. Who made a large part of his regular stump speech the claim that any Democratic electoral victories would mean that “the terrorists win.” And Karl Rove, who equated habeas corpus, which is apparently now a liberal part of the Constitution, with terrorist “hand-holding.”

That’s probably it, right? Too bad. If only there was one more example of Republicans regularly debasing their political opponents, preferably from a party operative who commands media attention like none other, ran on a mainline ticket, and may again. But who!?

Well, thank God for Sarah Palin. She just went ahead and gathered up all those little tropes, rolled ’em into a nice, tight little sound clip, and positively ran to Fox News to deliver it, making my job so much easier.

It’s really quite offensive. And remarkable, in that Palin’s larger point is actually tone deaf to itself. She gets to the undoubtedly correct argument, that it’s not nice to call fellow citizens “terrorists” based exclusively on their nonviolent political advocacy, but runs right past it to remind us of the official Republican position, that “liberals” are, actually, no better than terrorists. Or want the terrorists to win. Or hate America. Or aren’t even American in the first place.

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So let’s return to the original question. Why hasn’t Biden’s admittedly offensive quip gotten more coverage? Because it’s boring. Thanks to a steady stream of abuse from the right, it’s now acceptable to refer to one’s political opponent as a “terrorist.” Biden chose not to try to change that tone. And Palin, in response, affirmatively perpetuated it, while feigning offense, and giving the obligatory nod to decency. I’ll be the first to admit, both sides need to cut it out. Us and them. But I’d like to see the party that started this trope make the first move. Even if the box can never be closed, Pandora is in the best position to try.



  1. “I’ll be the first to admit, both sides need to cut it out. Us and them. But I’d like to see the party that started this trope make the first move.”

    So what you are saying then is that until the Right stops slinging mud, it’s game-on for your side? Two wrongs don’t make a right. You are always talking about how people need to lead by example. If Democrats play nice I’m sure the Right will get the message.

  2. Guys, honestly, this is the US we’re talking about. John Adams was accused of wanting to reinstate the monarchy. Alexander Hamilton was accused of planning a Napoleon-style military coup. The campaigns of the Federalist press against Jefferson are legendary. Mud-slinging has been an element of your politics literally since day 1, and that’s not going to change.

    Just be thankful that at least Congressmen aren’t beating each other senseless on The Hill anymore. (Messrs Sumner and Brooks, May 22, 1856, for the historically curious.)

  3. I agree AK which is also why I went bonkers back in January when Ames joined his fellow libs in accusing the Right of harsh rhetoric that may or may not have motivated Gabrielle Giffords attacker.

    Polticians and pundits say douchey things on a regular basis. The only thing that has changed between the election of 1800 and now is that we have better ways of communcating the doucheyness to the public.

    But if Ames is REALLY serious about changing the tone in politics (and we eagerly await his first run for office to see how much he sticks to this) then he should advocate that both sides shut up and not provide an escape clause for his side. Change begins at home.

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