When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.
But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.
But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”
Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”
A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.
As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.
If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.