One of the columns in yesterday’s New York Times referenced the old tale–variously attributed to Native Americans, village leaders of old or saintly religious folks– about the young woman who comes to a wise elder to ask what she should do about a recurring nightmare in which two wolves are ferociously fighting. She asks what it means, and is told that the wolves represent two sides of her own nature: the good and bad.
When she then asks which will win, the wise man tells her “The one you feed.”
This, in a nutshell, is why wise people refuse to negotiate with terrorists. Negotiation and compromise are important in many areas of life: between spouses, in legislative chambers, even at times between parents and children. But like all tools, it is important to know when–and when not–to deploy them.
The Tea Party radicals currently holding the nation hostage to their demands are terrorists. Unable to marshal the votes to defeat the Affordable Care Act , unable to defeat a President who ran on a record that prominently featured that Act, they have resorted to the sort of blackmail characteristic of terrorists: give us what we want or I’ll kill or maim the hostage.
The American economy is the hostage.
Even people who are adamantly opposed to the ACA should condemn these tactics, for the same reason that kids on a playground should refuse to give in to the bully who says “Play by my rules or I’ll take my ball and bat and go home.” It’s the same reason we don’t negotiate with rogue states that capture and hold innocent civilians hostage. Giving in to their demands encourages the behavior we deplore. It sets a dangerous precedent for the future–a future in which spoiled brat minorities who don’t get their way through legitimate means can circumvent democratic processes and actually be rewarded for the damage they cause.
Ironically, if these tactics work for Tea Party fanatics today, you can be sure they’ll be deployed by folks with very different agendas tomorrow. As a friend of mine likes to say, poison gas is a great weapon– until the wind shifts.
Giving in to these tactics feeds the wrong wolf.