A threat is an expression of intention to inflict harm on others unless the target of the threat agrees to do what the person making the threat demands. A threat uses coercion rather than persuasion to effect change. As a general rule, democratic governments do not negotiate with those who threaten their people with harm. The reason is simple: Democracies should not make public policy in response to threats, and those who threaten should not be rewarded for threatening harm to the nation.
This is the dilemma facing President Obama in the current debt ceiling crisis. The debt ceiling has never before been used as a leverage point for partisan political demands. As Mr. Obama observed in his address to the nation on July 25, presidents from Eisenhower to Bush II have regularly raised the debt ceiling without controversy and without facing anything like the current Republican intransigence.
But what makes that intransigence an immoral "threat" rather than an ordinary political disagreement? The answer is that the current controversy really has nothing to do with the debt ceiling. Rather, Republicans who do not have the votes to enact their preferred policies into law are threatening to throw the nation into economic chaos by refusing to increase the debt ceiling unless the President accedes to their demands. By threatening to wreak havoc with the national interest, they are attempting to coerce rather than persuade the nation into doing what they want.
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