This is Disorientation Week in Washington. From the White House to the Hill, the Democrats are trying (but not trying too hard) to come to terms with a new reality. Attitude-adjustment hour is sometimes no fun at all.
Vice President Joe Biden, who suffers terminal hoof-in-mouth disease, thinks the tea party folks are "terrorists," though the next day he said he didn't really say what everybody else in the room heard him say. Barack Obama, weary of trying to explain away good ol' Joe's frequent civility lapses, seems to be losing patience with his man for all rainy seasons.
When a reporter asked the presidential press flack whether Mr. Obama thinks calling Americans who disagree with him "terrorists" is "appropriate," the flack replied: "No, he doesn't, and neither does the vice president. ... Any kind of comments like that are simply not conducive to the kind of political discourse that we hope to have."
Such dodging and weaving in the wake of dispensing insult and invective is not the way Washington is supposed to work. Conservatives, both mainstream and from the smaller tributaries of "political discourse," are expected to lift their caps, tug their forelocks, and thank Mr. Obama for helpful reproof. But the debt debate has changed all that. The hard-line Republicans in the House invited their tormentors on the left to take their best shots and the tea pot is still right side up.
What we're getting now is the uncivilized civility of disbelieving Democrats. Steny H. Hoyer, the whip of the minority in the House and chief metaphor mixmaster, accuses the Republicans of playing Russian roulette with "all the chambers ... loaded," who "want to shoot every bullet they have at the president." Someone should explain the rules of Russian roulette to Mr. Hoyer. The players aim the gun to their own heads, not to the head of someone else. Rep. Melvin L. Watt of North Carolina says the legislation adopted under tea party pressure "literally holds a gun to the head of the economy of the United States of America." That's not quite right, either, but if you're disoriented that may be as close as a man can get.
Steven Rattner, who was once an economist in the Obama White House and is still disoriented from the experience, recalls the Republican bargaining tactics as "a form of economic terrorism." Whatever it is that he's smoking, it's giving him bad dreams and terrifying visions. "I imagine these tea party guys are like strapped with dynamite standing in the middle of Times Square at rush hour and saying, 'Either you do it my way or we are going to blow you up, ourselves up and the whole country up with us.' " Mr. Rattner is so disoriented that he thinks the nation's capital is still in New York.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is the most disoriented of all. Try diagramming these sentences by Debbie: "Well, we're going to focus on what we know is the number one priorities [sic] on Americans' minds right now, that is creating jobs and continuing to get this economy turned around. If we have to drag the Republicans with us, then we'll do that, but, you know, it's been a whole lot of months, eight months they have controlled the House with no jobs bills coming to the floor. Hopefully now with this compromise on the debt ceiling behind us, with the opportunity, with the commission, to sit down and focus on longer-term deficit reduction that will have some balance and ask some sacrifice for our most fortunate in addition to the middle class that we're going to be able to get everyone on the same page that it's jobs." Good luck with the diagrams.
Sen. Harry Reid, who acts as if he got well and truly disoriented by House Speaker John A. Boehner, is upset now because he's afraid he'll be out-maneuvered by the Republicans on the so-called "supercommittee" on cuts that must come up with another $1.5 trillion in savings before Christmas. He complained to Politico, the Capitol Hill daily, that the Republicans say that none of their six members of the supercommittee will want to raise taxes. "So what does that leave the committee to do? Should [Nancy] Pelosi and I just not appoint and walk away?"
Mr. Reid thinks he has a cure for Democratic disorientation. He would feel a lot better if the press would quit reporting news of bad people. "When reporting on political disputes always implies both sides are to blame, there's no penalty for extremism." Disorientation runs deep. We must be patient.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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