For members of Congress, political opponents traditionally have been addressed respectfully as “the distinguished gentleman.”
The language is still in use, but with something else added.
Now, according to Democrats, Republicans are “the distinguished gentlemen” who are jihadists, arsonists, blackmailers, terrorists running around with bombs strapped to their chest and worse.
Amid the budget impasse over Obamacare, the name-calling has reached new levels as Democrats, feeling cornered with limited strategic options, take out their frustrations on Republicans even as they face rising public and legal opposition to the health-care law.
Actually, President Obama described himself more as “exasperated.”
The fight this week is over the House bill that would defund Obamacare while funding the rest of the federal government. The majority Democrats in the Senate have refused to consider any plan from the House that doesn’t include Obamacare. The House is responsible under the Constitution for originating all funding legislation.
With the Republicans refusing to give in, the already short fuses among Democrats have burned down.
“The gentleman from California said [the shutdown was hurting] the towns around Yosemite. Was he thinking about that when he voted to shut down the government?” scolded Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., on the floor of the House. “He was prepared to sacrifice the local economy. He was prepared to sacrifice the towns around Yosemite when he was on the jihad against American citizens getting access to health care.”
Miller was then ruled “out of order.” After he left the floor, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he was “disgusted” by Miller’s comments.
Fox News reported tempers were flaring all over Congress.
When four top congressional leaders met with Obama this week, House Speaker John Boehner described it as a “polite conversation.”
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid threatened, “We’re through playing these little games.”
Reid had more choice descriptions for Republicans, calling them “anarchists” and “monkey wrenchers.”
“When I was in school I studied government. I learned about the anarchists. They were different. … They were anarchists because they were against government at any level. … They did not believe in government. The tea party [doesn't] say we’re against government, but that’s what it amounts to,” he said.
“Local, state, federal, that’s what it’s all about. Anything they can do to throw a monkey wrench in government, they are happy doing that,” Reid charged.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined the chorus.
“I call them legislative arsonists,” she said. “They’re there to burn down what we should be building up.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., took the lead in calling members of the GOP “blackmailers.”
“They are blackmailing the country,” he said. “They are saying they will shut down the country, or worse, destroy the full faith and credit of the United States if we don’t repeal or delay Obamacare.”
His argument didn’t include the fact that members of the House GOP have fully funded the government, with the exception of a proposed delay in Obamacare.
Critics also point out that the healthc-care law Congress approved isn’t the one being implemented, because Obama himself already has ordered 19 changes in the law, including exemptions for millions of his supporters and a delay in the insurance mandate for employers.
Nadler, nevertheless, said Republicans are like gangsters in a 1930s film: “Pity if [it] should happen to blow up.”
Obama charged that the GOP was trying to run the United States as a “banana republic.”
“This is not some deadbeat nation,” he said.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., described repealing Obamacare as a “wet dream” for Republicans.
Democrats outside Congress also joined in the refrain.
Senior White House Adviser Dan Pfeifer said: “What we’re not for [is] negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest. We’re not going to do that.”
And independents, who caucus with Democrats, were aligned, with Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont asserting “right-wing extremists” who were prepared to “destroy” Obama.
Obama, in another speech, described the GOP as kidnappers trying to “extract a ransom.”
“The idea of putting the American peoples’ hard-earned progress at risk is the height of irresponsibility. It doesn’t have to happen. … It does not have to happen. … You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.”
The Hill noted Reid’s repeated use of “anarchists” to label the GOP.
“We’re diverted totally from what this bill is about. Why? Because the anarchists have taken over,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “They’ve taken over the House and now they’ve taken over the Senate.”
The Washington Times described the war of words this way: “Democrats, who have long posed as the party of peaceniks and doves, have been anything but during the great rhetorical war of 2013. In fact, the party of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter has been mad as hell as of late, leading an offensive of bombastic insults and rhetorical bullying that has dominated the government shutdown. It’s a perfect storm, with Democrats leading the pace.”
Mark Gerzon, a mediator who worked with congressional retreats in 1997 and 1999, said the “blame game can be a winning strategy at election time.”
“Election time now never ends,” he said. “It used to be that politicians played by slash-and-burn election rules for a few months before November every other year. Now they play by those rules all the time. There is almost no ‘governing’ anymore. It is all electioneering.”
Gerzon told the Times: “Incivility, dishonesty and character attacks that once were a bad habit during campaign season have become a way of life.”