No one, but no one, would have called the Weather Underground "terrorists" before 9/11 created a new and ugly political salience for doing so. I am against the term entirely — it confuses more than it reveals — and yet my meager attempts (on a blog whose archives have been eaten by a server switch) at substituting the more-descriptive-but-still-imperfect term "anti-western Salafist jihadists" as the proper target of the War On [Something] haven’t gone anywhere. The point is, as many have pointed out, terrorism is a tactic, and the motivations and capabilities of any given terrorist are more important than the employment of that tactic. At least that’s true if you don’t want to be at war with the Tamil Tigers and other such organizations that operate at the extreme periphery of American interests.
So when the right calls Bill Ayers a "terrorist," the obvious intention isn’t to be descriptive, it’s to associate Ayers with the Evildoers We’re At War With, people he has absolutely nothing in common with in any significant way. It’s much like how you still occasionally hear braying on the right about Saddam Hussein’s ties to "terrorists" generically, because no one in his right mind would contend that an invasion was justified because Saddam offered cash to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who targeted Israel. Such are the ways in which very big lies are constructed: through euphemism.
Naturally, then, watch Sarah Palin decline to term the bombers of abortion clinics "terrorists," although such people are far more deserving contenders for that ugly term than is an old, formerly violent hippie.
The point isn’t that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, which is also an absurd, lazy and euphemistic statement. It’s that when you start down this path, you lose the ability to draw necessary distinctions, and end up with an overbroad and counterproductive definition of your enemy. That’s a feature, not a bug, of calling something a war on "terrorism." Bush started it. Palin embraced it. And now she’s trapped in its absurdity.
With that, I’m going back to bed, because I feel absolutely awful and the cold medicine isn’t working.