Liberal contempt for the workings of democracy and for diversity of opinion reflects not just hypocrisy but panic.
By PETER BERKOWITZ
The debt-limit crisis of 2011 brought the federal government harrowingly close to defaulting on its financial obligations. As the dust settles, it is more harrowing still to contemplate the implications of what the democratically negotiated settlement revealed about the panic of the progressive mind.
One might view the debt deal as evidence that democracy in America, though often unlovely in execution, is alive and well. After all, President Obama's $800 billion-plus stimulus package was passed by Congress in early 2009 on a mostly party-line vote. It was followed in April by his $3.5 trillion budget, enacted without a single Republican vote, that contained sizeable across-the-board funding increases for federal departments and agencies. The president devoted the next 12 months to passing costly and unpopular health-care legislation that dramatically increased government's responsibility for regulating approximately one-sixth of the nation's economy. Employment hovered at approximately 9% and still does.
In the congressional elections of 2010, the electorate, led by the tea party movement and disaffected independents, rendered its judgment on the president's priorities. The people dealt him and his party a historic midterm defeat, producing large Republican gains in the Senate and a comfortable majority in the House, including 87 freshmen.
The voters' message was clear: Cut spending, compel the government to live within its means, and put Americans back to work. In short, the president and his party badly overreached in 2009 and 2010; and in 2011 the Republicans, to the extent their numbers in Congress allowed, have effectively pushed back.
But that's not how progressives have tended to see things. They have ferociously attacked congressional Republicans, particularly those closely associated with the tea party movement, with something approaching hysteria.
Consider the unabashed incivility of progressive criticism, its tone dictated from the top. During and after the budget negotiations, we heard that tea party representatives were content with "blowing up our government" (Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne). Then came accusations that "Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people" (New York Times columnist Joe Nocera), while acting like "a maniacal gang with knives held high" (New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd). At the height of negotiations, Vice President Biden either said, or agreed with House Democrats with whom he was meeting who said, that Congressional Republicans "have acted like terrorists."
In addition, progressive legal scholars concocted a wild theory to justify an executive power grab by means of which President Obama would unilaterally raise the debt ceiling to avoid having to hammer out a deal with Congress.