August 1st, 2011
04:44 PM ET

Zakaria: Tea Party held America hostage

On Friday night, Fareed Zakaria talked to Anderson Cooper about the Tea Party. Fareed argued that the Tea Party held America hostage and undermined the democratic process throughout the debt crisis. Here's the transcript of that conversation, lightly edited:

Anderson Cooper: Fareed, you say the Tea Party is anti-democratic at this point. And you talked about the polarization that is occurring. How do you mean that they're anti-democratic?

Fareed Zakaria: Well, Anderson, if you think about what's going on, the Tea Party is trying to pass a particular agenda, which is basically this all-cuts budget. It cannot get it through the Congress of the United States. It cannot get it through the political democratic process that we have, which is that Congress passes something and the president must sign it. That's the normal workings of democracy.

So, instead of accepting some compromise that can get through the democratic process, what they're saying is we'll blow up the country if you don't listen to us. We'll hold hostage the credit of the United States, the good standing of the United States and we'll blow it up.

Now, that is why even Charles Krauthammer, columnist for The Washington Post, fire-breathing conservative urged today in his column in The Washington Post not to go down this path because he called it "counterconstitutional." In other words, they are not acting in the way that constitutional democracy expects you to act. You are meant to respect the democratic process. You try your best to convince to get a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate and the president to sign it.

But if you control just one of those three branches of government, you can't hijack the entire system and say I'm going to blow the country up unless you listen to me.

They have only won one election to one house once.

Anderson Cooper: They're saying they're not holding anybody hostage. They're saying, 'Look, this is what we said we would do to get elected. We've been elected. This is what people elected us to do.'

Fareed Zakaria: Well, unfortunately, as I say, I think they don't understand the workings of democracy. They have not been elected as dictators of the United States. They have been elected to one house in one branch of the American government. The only way you can translate your wishes into public policy in America is if you can convince your branch and the other one, the Senate and the White House, to go along with it.

If you can't, you've got to figure out amongst yourself what you can agree on. This is why it is fundamentally anti-democratic –"counterconstitutional" in the words of Charles Krauthammer - to be trying to do this. It's just an extraordinary act of hostage-taking on the part of the Tea Party. It is holding the country hostage.

And it has already damaged the good standing of the United States. It's very important to understand that Tea Party talks a lot about morality. In a capitalist framework, the obligation you owe in terms of repaying your debts is a moral obligation. When the Visa bill comes you can decide that stuff you bought is stuff that you don't want. You pay the bill.

Then you can have an interesting conversation about how to reform your spending. But you can't renege on your debts.

Anderson Cooper: What do you think is going to happen now?

Fareed Zakaria: It seems very difficult to see how the kind of people you were talking to, Anderson, are going to accept some kind of compromise. Iit seems to me you have to accept that 300 million people in this country, not all of them agree with you. And so you make your best case, you take as much as you can.

They had a deal. John Boehner provided a deal with $3 trillion of spending cuts for $1 trillion in revenue enhancements - all of it through closing tax loopholes, none of it through raising rates.

Now, if that's not acceptable, I really don't know where you go. And my sense is, I hope that President Obama is seriously exploring the possibility of invoking the 14th Amendment.

Anderson Cooper: Really? You think that's a valid option?

Fareed Zakaria: He has the legal authority to simply raise the debt ceiling himself. I think that President Bill Clinton thinks that it is a viable argument. I'm not a constitutional lawyer. But I think we have reached a level of dysfunction here that this is the kind of national emergency almost like a war.

And if the president were to invoke that and if it were to go to the Supreme Court, I have a feeling the court would as it does with War Powers issues and say, 'This is a political issue. We're not going to get involved.' And the president's writ would stand.

Anderson Cooper: And, Fareed, to the Republicans who say, well, look this August 2nd is not really going to be the cataclysm that people talk about?

Fareed Zakaria: Look, it may not be August 2nd. It may be August 4th. Nobody doubts that we're running out of money. Nobody doubts that we have to borrow more money, whether it's August 2nd or 5th.

Is this how the greatest economy in the world should be run that we should be saying, 'We'll take the first 20 cents out of every dollar and pay the debt, but we won't pay the veterans and we won't - and if you listen to what the congressman said to you, Anderson, he said, 'I don't want any tax increases. No closing of loopholes. I want to pay the interest on the debt. I want to look after our seniors. That's Medicare, Social Security. And then I want to look after the army.'

Well, you know, I've got news for you, Congressman. There ain't much money left. If you aren't willing to cut any of those things and not willing to raise tax revenues then you're going to have to rely on magic to somehow balance the budget.

That's all the big money. That's where it is. It's not in some mythical waste fraud abuse. The bulk of the money is in Social Security, Medicare, the military, interest on the debt.

You can abolish the space shuttle program and the Department of Education and that's going to get you four days' worth of money.

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Topics: Debt Crisis • From Fareed • Politics • President Obama • United States

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soundoff (382 Responses)
  1. palintwit

    Big teabagging rally tonight in the Walmart parking lot. Plenty of trailer parking available. First 25 teabaggers get a free autographed copy of Sarah Palin's 'crosshairs' poster. We will also be raffling off boxes of ammo !!!

    August 3, 2011 at 10:30 am | Reply
  2. Big John

    Personally I would have said NO to the stimulus, but remember, everybody kept saying to Obama that "You have to do something" and that is what they came up with. And there WERE benefits to it, just drive down the new highway or look at all the new construction at your nearest military base. And tax cuts don't actually create jobs because you don't pay taxes until you already have a profit, and once you have a profit, you can deduct the salary in computing the tax anyway. The proof that tax cuts don't equal jobs is found in the Eisenhower administration in which the max rate was 90% (!) but that was a period of unequalled expansion. And you can't keep cutting taxes every time a recession comes along because eventually they would get down to zero and then the government would collapse amid chaos - and chaos will clearly KILL jobs. Case in point: Somalia and Haiti have no taxes and no government, and you don't exactly see them leading the world in creating jobs.

    August 3, 2011 at 10:32 am | Reply
  3. alyosha_dayan

    There are times when the severity of the situation can, I think, morally justify a person or group subverting the democratic process. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement was ANYTHING but democratic. They didn't negotiate. They didn't comprimise. They didn't sit down with the Ku Klux Klan to try to find common ground.

    Yet nobody in their right mind would say that the Civil Rights Movement was "hijacking" the country or ultimately bad for the democratic process. This is because, sometimes in politics, there are issues that are non-negotiable. Continuously running the country into obsene amounts of debt is probably one of those issues.

    August 3, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • Big John

      The civil rights movement did not subvert Congress. There was no group of Congressmen holding the country hostage unless their civil rights demands were met. And while obscene amounts of debt is non-negotiable, how it should be addressed IS negotiable. The TP has no right to hold the country hostage to their demand of no tax increases to address the deficit. That is the problem here. They need to learn to compromise like adults.

      August 3, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
      • alyosha_dayan

        That's just dishonest to say that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't egnaged in their fair share of intimidation, manipulation, and suppression of truth. Any well organized movement of that type would have to be. Whether you agree with the goals of a movement is completely subjective, but that's exactly the point I'm making. When and where it is appropriate to take a hard-line stand is dependent on your own political beliefs. But for this knucklehead to say that what the Tea Party is doing is unprecedented is patently ridiculous. Its clearly happened many times before in American history – it just so happens he's on the losing end this time.

        August 3, 2011 at 11:18 am |
      • Dewayne

        Aloysha, you keep dancing around the issue or just missing the issue altogether. The issue is "holding the country hostage" to force everyone to concede to what you want. That's the issue, not manipulation or anything else. There were no Congressman in the Civil Rights debate threatening to hold up the passage of laws unless everyone else caved in to what they wanted.

        August 3, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  4. Rick McDaniel

    Quite the contrary.

    The Tea Party demonstrated that they were the responsible people in the room.

    No sooner was the deal done, than Obama announced new, large spending programs. Obama is going to totally bankrupt this country. There will not be a dime unspent, in this 2.4 trillion increase, by the time Obama leaves office in 2013.

    August 3, 2011 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Big John

      1) "Obama announced new, large spending programs." What "new" spending programs? Details, please.
      2) Obama doesn't pass the budget. Spending bills originate in the House of Representatives and if I recall correctly, the House is currently under control of the GOP.
      You're just quoting talking points with no factual basis.

      August 3, 2011 at 11:03 am | Reply
  5. Coriolana


    August 3, 2011 at 11:04 am | Reply
  6. JP

    Democracy is under attack in the US...When a small minority of the populace can extort and control the democratic process, you have started down the same route as germany in the 30's...If you look at the demographic makeup of the teabaggers you will see that they are not a true representation of the melting pot that is Amercia..Taxes and spending is a smokescreen for the real agenda of the leaders of the tea party..That agenda is states rights over a weakened federal government...One of the greatest men and presidents this country ever had realized the danger in this and rallied those dedicated to this country to preserve the union..It looks as though that fight will have to be fought again....

    August 3, 2011 at 11:05 am | Reply
  7. Greg

    The tea party and republicans should be held for treason

    August 3, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
    • Melissa

      Damn right.

      August 3, 2011 at 11:22 am | Reply
  8. Melissa

    The Tea Party is worse than the Republicans, and they need to be stopped.

    August 3, 2011 at 11:21 am | Reply
  9. Dewayne

    Republicans have pulled a fast one on the American people. I want to know when the Bush cuts tax cuts are finally going to spur some of these "job creators" to start creating some jobs. They talked about jobs, built up the debt as the enemy of jobs, and then knocked down the debt without explaining the correlation between the debt and job creation. Right-wingers have now started to name the debt as our number one issue, but for most Americans, jobs are the number one issue. The reality is, no one cares about your ideology, they just want to be able to put food on the table for their families. There is no historical correlation between tax rates and job growth. None.

    August 3, 2011 at 11:22 am | Reply
  10. Dewayne

    Republicans have pulled a fast one on the American people. I want to know when the Bush cuts tax cuts are finally going to spur some of these "job creators" to start creating some jobs. They talked about jobs, built up the debt as the enemy of jobs, and then knocked down the debt without explaining the correlation between the debt and job creation. Right-wingers have now started to name the debt as our number one issue, but for most Americans, jobs are the number one issue. The reality is, no one cares about your ideology, they just want to be able to put food on the table for their families. There is no historical correlation between tax rates and job growth. None.

    August 3, 2011 at 11:29 am | Reply
  11. Heinz M

    What I see is that the tea party (and I do NOT agree with all of their points!) are trying to do what they were mandated to do. Express the extreme displeasure that many (at this time most) experience with Washington. Washington doesn't seem to give a damn about what the people want. They go about their 'business', mostly taking care of their own personal interests. NOT acceptable!!!
    There are literally oodles of bureaucracies that are totally useless and should be disbanded. The amount of money to be saved staggers the imagination. Instead our 'representatives' (who mostly represent themselves!) run amok. They put laws on the books that are mostly jokes, and blow money on stuff that is generally useless.
    The US government has become a circus, which the rest of the world looks at as a stupid joke. And unfortunately by rights.
    Washington HAS TO BE reigned in, if this country doesn't want to go the route of the Roman empire! And we are almost there. The amount of interest we pay on our debt is so large, there is nothing left for what needs to be done. Also, we still blow money collected for one purpose (like the road system) on idiotic crap that only pays for the representatives job security. A total no no. Wake up America, before it is too late.

    August 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  12. walt

    I'm not going to say that I feel what the Tea Partiers did was the best thing they could have done, but to say they held Americans hostage is stupid. We are already ARE hostage to overwhelming debt, deficits, rampant handouts, a military empire across the globe.... the American Dream is gone, now only a pipedream. If the Tea Partiers hadn't held their ground so much, it is VERY likely that Congress would have done what Washington has done for the last 30 to 40 years: just get us blindly into more and more debt, securing our financial ruin, and not talking about cutting spending. Folks, we ARE ALREADY hostage to a whoring and corrupt Washington over the last few decades. Any more of the same (increasing debt) should not be acceptable.

    August 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  13. louise

    SILLY RABBIT, I Think we all recall Bush started his term with a SURPLUS, yes. The price setting pharmaceuticals was during the Bush reign. No comparison in what was spent on wars....Obama winded that down and Caught Bin Laden on top of that, mind you with intelligence....Tax cuts and subsidies were extended only because Rethugs and Teabaggers would not extend unemployed benefits for Americans who deserved it....Looks like obstructionist to me...No I can't see the fairness for the average middle class that they claim their fighting for....

    August 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  14. mllea

    Fundamentalist are fundamentalist and the Tea Party is our own home grown terrorists. Americans need to pull their heads out of their Bravo TV Housewives mentality and start giving a damn about this country. The fact that our government has enacted policy because of these racists, moronic, hypocrites scream the loudest is absolutely shocking. While the rest of the world fights for democracy, we are handing away our civil liberties because we are too self absorbed to lift our heads from between our legs to notice.
    The only message the Tea Party has is 'lets the the N***** out of the White House.' That is their only true goal and they will scorch earth our foundation of civil liberties, environmental gains and separation between church and state to do it. The straight white male who makes over a million bucks a year is the only one that wins. The rest of us can tread water in the sewers.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:38 am | Reply
  15. herdwatcher

    This is like a Shakespearian tragedy where the ignorant thirst of the mob must be be quenched by compromising sanity. The tea party evolved as a mass brainwashing scheme by misinforming the ill informed . Now the very people that the current policy's is designed to help , are the ones who are bellowing against it. It is a tragedy because the acts of it's citizens has become the poison that is sickening America.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  16. Rico Burrowski

    End the wars. I'm sorry, but when you're financially broken you do not go on war toy spending sprees. That would be a good start to fixing our deficits. Emphasis on start. It's that simple.

    August 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  17. JzMnemonic

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    September 4, 2011 at 5:23 am | Reply
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    April 12, 2012 at 4:38 am | Reply
  19. zaqaz

    The IRS targeted a political movement?

    Who was fired? That group should be gutted – wholesale

    Disgusting abuse of power..

    May 11, 2013 at 6:29 am | Reply
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