August 02, 2011

Are Tea Partiers Terrorists?

Uh, no. In his column today, Joe Nocera writes:

You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only
encourages them.


These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the
Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people.

Terrorism is defined by Bard O'Neill
as "the threat of physical
coercion, primarily against noncombatants, especially civilians, to
create fear in order to achieve various political objectives." That's a
pretty solid definition, and though the Tea Party has certainly relied
on other forms of coercion to get its way, in effect threatening to destroy the global
financial system, it has never resorted to force or the threat of force.
Calling Tea Partiers terrorists is, at the very least, incorrect. Using the term "jihad," meanwhile, is even more fraught with peril. I often suggest people go consult the Encyclopedia of Islam entry for the word before using it themselves. Nocera, meanwhile, is just using it to score cheap rhetorical points.

I have a lot of trouble saying anything good about the Tea Party. The Tea Party -- and the obstructionism and rigid adherence to orthodoxy it represents -- has done more to undermine U.S. economic, diplomatic and military power than al-Qaeda.* That is no exaggeration. But using words like "terrorists" and "jihad" to describe the Tea Party helps no one. They further poison the American discourse, and they also make life really difficult on people like me who spend a lot of time parsing terms like "terrorism" and "jihad" in the face of others who throw those terms around carelessly.

Joe Nocera should continue to criticize the Tea Party, but he should apologize for the language in his op-ed today.


Earlier this morning, I approvingly linked to Nocera's op-ed on my Twitter account. And indeed, I largely agree with everything in the op-ed aside from the language in the introductory and concluding paragraphs. But I should have stated more clearly, from the beginning, that Nocera's clumsy use of such loaded language was at best unhelpful and at worst as irresponsible as the language so often used by Nocera's antagonists.

*I actually did back-of-the-envelope calculations based on the amount the United States will pay over a 10-year period if our debt is downgraded (about $1 trillion), the number of projected cuts to our national defense budget ($700+ million), etc. And I cannot estimate the degree to which the international system -- to include the markets -- now has a lack of faith in the ability of the United States to govern itself. Or the degree to which economic growth will now slow because we are cutting discretionary spending but not making the long-term structural changes (cutting entitlements, raising revenues) necessary for long-term fiscal health. I mean, if you think that we can cut short-term public expenditures and it's not going to have an effect on the private sector, I sell bottles of snake oil that might interest you. But don't just take my word -- take the word of the guy who helps run PIMCO. More on the market fall-out here. More here.