When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Will Rogers
After 16 days of the government shutdown, Republicans in Congress finally decided that the hole was deep enough. With no way out from the hole that Ted Cruz and other Tea Party Republicans started digging in a futile attempt to undue the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement , Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues in the Senate and John Boehner and his fellow Republicans in the House cried uncle. To quote boxer Roberto Duran, Republicans finally said “no mas!”
In the end, Republicans faced no good options. Boxed into a corner by purist Tea Party politicians, who view compromise as akin to blasphemy, conservative Republicans were in a lose-lose situation. And, yes, I did say conservative Republicans. Just because Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and their followers — including many right-wing media types — keep trying to redefine conservative to equal Tea Party does not make it so. As Jonah Goldberg astutely points out in a recent column on National Review Online, many in the Tea Party brigade appeal more to a “libertarian populism” than to conservatism. This type of populism leads to a fundamentalist-mentality that views the world through a rather skewed — albeit passionate — set of lenses:
The problem with populism is often that it is fueled more by passion than reason, and passion is a fire that is great when harnessed for good purposes. But fire is also always dangerous. The fire of populism has a tendency to ignore worthy distinctions and simply burn for burning’s sake.
Which brings me to this statement from FreedomWorks, a group I’ve long thought to be on the side of the angels. In its statement on the Senate deal, FreedomWorks asserts, “The line separating the Democrats and the Republican establishment is fading — it might have disappeared today. This is about Washington insiders versus the rest of America now.”
Leaving aside the fact that many real Americans outside the establishment do not see eye-to-eye with FreedomWorks, this seems like just another version of the beloved mantra of Naderites, anarchists, and other outfits on the political periphery: There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. And I think that is nonsense. (“The Art of the Possible,” Jonah Goldberg)
To say that the President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi Democrats are basically the same as the Mitch McConnell and John Boehner Republicans is like saying that Southern Baptists are not that much different from Episcopalians. Although both might be considered part of Protestant Christianity, only the severely deluded or the willfully ignorant could come to such an irrational conclusion.
Of course, irrationality — masked as passion and principle — were chiefly responsible for what we have witnessed the last two weeks. And, a good dose of political bloviating, preening, and posturing for 2016. Why would Tea Party Republicans think that a Democrat President and a Democrat Senate would give in to their demands to defund Obamacare? Just when the public insurance exchanges were opening, with their attendant “glitches” and higher-than-promised prices, Cruz and company basically deflected any attention away from the disaster that is Obamacare. Did they tilt at windmills, knowing that there was no chance of defunding Obamacare? Or, did they really believe that it was possible for the President and Congressional Democrats to cave in the face of a government shutdown? I’m not sure which is the more scary proposition.
If the Affordable Care Act turns out to be not as advertised,with much higher premiums and/or deductibles for most middle-class American families, then President Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress will feel the wrath of the voters in the mid-term elections, much the same as happened in 2010 after the AFA was passed without a single Republican vote. By the way, I think that this will, in fact, be the case, but time will tell. There was simply no way that Obamacare would be defunded before it was even rolled out. And, if the actual program works as well as the online sign-up has over the first few weeks, then expect “moderate” Democrats who are up for election in red and purple states next year to be the first in line to “suggest” tweaks to their law.
On Wednesday night, a majority of Senate Republicans and nearly 40% of House Republicans voted to end the government shutdown and get back to business. If they would have only remembered Otto von Bismarck’s oft-quoted maxim, “politics is the art of the possible,” in September, then the Republicans — including the conservative majority (i.e., non-Tea Party) — could have started digging a hole for Obamacare instead of digging their own graves!