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A Setback for Manichean Conservatives

In the end, it wasn’t close.

The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bipartisan budget deal crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray. Republicans voted in favor of it by a 169-62 margin. And fully 66 percent of the Republican Study Committee supported it (the RSC is a group of the most conservative House Republicans). This despite fierce criticism of the deal by conservative groups and Tea Party activists.

What explains the route? Several factors, I think.

The deal itself, if imperfect, was certainly defensible given the current political landscape. It’s also hard to overstate the importance of Ryan’s role in winning over so many House Republicans. Highly respected by his conference and highly trusted as a conservative, the fact that Ryan was the architect of the agreement reassured Republicans who might otherwise have broken away.

Another factor in passage was removing the possibility of another government shutdown, which blew up in the faces of the GOP when it was tried in October. Those on the right (like Senator Ted Cruz) who predicted wonderful things that would emerge from a shutdown–up to and including defunding ObamaCare–were embarrassed. Only a foolish party, having been clubbed once, would return for more. But something else seems to be going on as well: Apocalypse fatigue.

To be sure, thoughtful people on the right opposed the budget agreement. But libertarians and conservatives who portrayed this deal as a “cave in” and a “shame” and an example of “a party that has lost its principles and bearings” look rather silly.

This budget deal (which now heads to the Senate) may be a marginally good one or it may be a marginally bad one; but it was hardly a dramatic or defining moment in the history of modern conservatism. It’ll be forgotten in a few weeks (and maybe in a few days). Yet there are some on the right who insist on turning every debate into a battle between liberty and tyranny, pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness. For them it’s Def Con 1 all the time. It’s the American Revolution all over again.

This approach can be entertaining up to a point, but it grows old and stale after a time; and a party that follows its Manichean Wing ends up battered and damaged.

One senses that the vote yesterday was a small step away from the suicide caucus, toward governing maturity, and toward a liberation of sorts.



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