Obama Answers Inaccurate Tea Party Criticisms (or Tries To)

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 16 2011 12:57 PM

Obama Answers Inaccurate Tea Party Criticisms (or Tries To)

David Jackson posts raw video of Barack Obama talking to Iowa Tea Party leader Ryan Rhodes (a Bachmann endorser) and an unidentified woman. It's a rorshach video -- if you're a Tea Partier, you'll see Obama getting owned, and if you're a Democrat, you'll think Obama did the owning. Worth noting, though, that the Tea Partiers appear to be angry about stuff that didn't happen.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

RHODES: When you're talking about civility, how is your vice president calling us terrorists...
OBAMA: Sir, sir...
RHODES: I would like to understand that!
OBAMA: Okay, I will explain right now. He did not call you guys terrorists.
RHODES: He said we were acting like terrorists. Hostage-takers.
OBAMA: No. What he said was that for us to be willing to take the economy to the brink was irresponsible. And it was.

Neither Obama nor Rhodes is being entirely truthful. What Jake Sherman and Jon Allen reported was this, an exchange behind closed doors between Joe Biden and Pittsburgh-area Rep. Mike Doyle.

“We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”
Biden, driven by his Democratic allies’ misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: “They have acted like terrorists.”

Biden, according to the sources, did use the word "terrorists." But he was referring to Republican members of Congress, not people like Rhodes. Now, were there some liberal pundits calling the Tea Party, writ large, "terrorists"? Yes. Can you draw out the logic, and say that Democrats were angry that Tea Party activists were putting pressure on elected Tea Party-identifying Republicans, and that this was part of the hostage situation? Sure. But strictly speaking, all we have is a quote from Biden saying that a small group of Republican congressmen were taking hostages.

On to the second part:

WOMAN: It's the second person in your administration to call the right-wing people terrorists! Janet Napolitano did it first! She said the right-wing extremists should be watched out for.
OBAMA: But that's true. Timothy McVeigh should be. You wouldn't disagree with that!
WOMAN: You do realize that 90 percent of the domestic terrorist attacks are done by left-wing environmental terrorists, and not people like me?

This is a very well-phrased response to Obama. It's also bunk. In April 2009, Eli Lake broke the news that the Department of Homeland Security had commissioned a report on the threat of "right-wing extremism." Napolitano confirmed that she'd been briefed on it, and claimed it was "one in an ongoing series of assessments" about potential violence. She quickly ate crow and met with the American Legion to sooth nerves over the report's lines about returning veterans being targets for extremist recruiters. More than two years later, looking at that event and saying Napolitano "said the right-wing extremists should be watched out for" -- with the implication that she, Napolitano, was trashing Tea Partiers -- is a stretch. The "90 percent" number is made up, but so are most political numbers, so we'll give our mystery woman a pass.

Anyway: It's a nice little scene, and it reminds us how much of politics happens between people with different sets of facts.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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