In a notable de-escalation of the White House’s rhetorical war on its critics, an incoming senior adviser to President Barack Obama has compared House Republicans and the tea party to the infamous Jonestown cult that was behind one of the worst mass-murders of civilians in history. And then he apologized.
The comment in question came from John Podesta, a veteran of political knife fights under Bill Clinton. Podesta later apologized on Twitter, saying, “my snark got in front of my judgment.”
“I apologize to Speaker Boehner, whom I have always respected,” Podesta tweeted.
Still, how is that first comment a de-escalation, you ask, quite reasonably? Well, it really wasn’t that long ago that the White House was unrepentantly comparing the House GOP and the tea party to terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests. This is arguably a little less inflammatory. The United States isn’t waging a global military campaign against cults, after all. Or that could just be my snark getting in front of my judgment.
Here’s how this kerfuffle began. Podesta told Politico magazine in an interview “earlier this fall” that the White House needed to look into steps the president can take without Congress given Republican opposition to his policies there.
“They need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” said Podesta, who served as Clinton’s chief of staff from 1998-2001. His remarks were published on Wednesday.
Many Americans use “drinking the Kool-Aid” — a phrase derived from the cyanide-laced Flavor Aid that cult leader Jim Jones used to mass-murder more than 900 followers — without a second thought. But Podesta's comments drew an angry response from House Republicans.
“If this is the attitude of the new White House, it’s hard to see how the president gets anything done again,” a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, emailed reporters.
And the communications director for Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Rory Cooper, weighed in: “This type of appalling and inflammatory rhetoric is a very troubling sign of how this White House plans to govern over the next three years."
Buck and Cooper are understandably not going to let Podesta’s comment slide by. After all, members of the so-called Peoples Temple murdered a lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Leo Ryan of California, and wounded one of his aides, Jackie Speier, who is now a House member from California. They also killed some journalists — all before Jones orchestrated the mass murder.
But, you know, it’s not like the White House’s legislative agenda was steaming right along unhindered and will only now face Republican opposition.