Commentary Magazine


Topic: government shutdown

Madison’s Moment

He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

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He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison promised that a large republic with a representative government would avoid the “instability, injustice and confusion” that had plagued many nations in Europe. In a representative government, he reasoned, disruptive factions would be unable to gain sufficient power to dissolve the social contract. The people’s representatives would not necessarily be paragons of virtue, but they would be less likely to succumb to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice.” In the 225 intervening years, Madison has been proven correct, with two great exceptions. One was the Civil War. The other was the 16-day government shutdown of October 2013.

Madison would, of course, be appalled. He was, after all, president during the War of 1812. That war would split the nation so profoundly as to be dubbed, variously, a civil war all its own and a second war of independence. And as for succumbing to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice,” the war’s political polarization would crest with the Hartford Convention of 1814 at which Federalists from New England would either threaten secession openly or implicitly. They had already, as Richard Brookhiser notes, been “smuggling supplies to the British army in Canada.” Shy of secession, they made noises about striking a separate peace with the British.

The “or else” tacked on to these threats was a list of constitutional amendments the conventioneers wanted adopted, among them restrictions on presidential eligibility aimed specifically at curbing the electoral success of the sons of Virginia. For those who think Republicans engineered the 2013 shutdown because they could not win elections fair and square and therefore contrived to take the country “hostage,” one wonders what they would make of such personalities as Gouverneur Morris (“Unquestionably it is civil war. And what of it?”) and Timothy Pickering.

But of course Madison was far from blameless. One clever flourish of the conventioneers was in writing that “in cases of deliberate, dangerous and palpable infractions of the constitution” it is appropriate for “a state to interpose its authority” with the federal government. This language echoed nearly word for word a section of the Virginia Resolution of 1798, which was written by Madison himself. (Madison’s authorship was not yet publicly revealed, but as it was promulgated by his party in his home state, his affiliation with and approval of its ideas were widely assumed.)

The Virginia Resolution, in turn, along with Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution, was a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts which were put in place by the Federalists and used by President John Adams (and an enabling Supreme Court) to silence domestic criticism and stack the deck electorally against the Republicans. Madison talked Jefferson out of pushing secession in response to the Acts, but he would no doubt scoff at the idea that the government shutdown of 2013 was an unprecedented manifestation (aside from the Civil War) of partisan polarization, disrupting a history of harmony that he would not recognize.

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The War on Rational Conservatism

What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

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What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

I think Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru were on to something when they wrote in their National Review essay that sent Erickson over the edge that the problem behind the angst on the right is despair. I touched on the same theme in an essay in the Intercollegiate Review published last month as part of its symposium on what’s the matter with conservatism, as well as in a blog post published here titled “Tea Party Despair and ObamaCare.” Frustrated by the Supreme Court’s illogical decision that affirmed ObamaCare’s constitutionality and by the results of the 2012 election, many conservatives have more or less given up on conventional politics. Right now all they are interested in is a fight, no matter how quixotic. And anyone who won’t charge over the cliff with them strikes such people as something far worse than a political foe.

In response, Erickson and others who have written about this topic ground their attacks on the so-called Republican “establishment” as being analogous to the situation in the 1950s when William F. Buckley founded the modern conservative movement as part of a protest against the way Republicans had become enablers of the Democrats’ liberal agenda. Regardless of the political facts of the day, they say the only rational response of conservatives to the situation is to take a principled stand much like Buckley’s famous declaration that the purpose of National Review was to “stand athwart history” and to yell “stop.” Those who won’t do that are no better than the Republicans who opposed Buckley. Even more important, they say that those who are more concerned with Republicans winning elections even at the cost of their souls than standing up for principle really are RINOs and traitors no matter what their positions on the issues might be.

But it bears repeating there is a big difference between the state of the Republican Party when Buckley was first yelling “stop” and today.

Buckley and his allies were justified in trying to radically change the nature of the GOP because many of its leaders weren’t “timid” conservatives who were afraid of challenging the legitimacy of liberal government. Nelson Rockefeller and much of the GOP establishment of that time really were liberals and were not shy about saying so. Buckley had no interest in electing more liberals even if they called themselves Republicans, but he also famously said conservatives should always back the most electable conservative, not the most right-wing candidate.

The battle that was waged over the soul of the GOP over the next quarter century after NR’s founding was fierce because there were real ideological differences at stake. By contrast, Cruz and Erickson’s targets are not merely fellow conservatives but among the most conservative individuals and outlets in the country. Their sin is not the genuine dispute about the virtue of the welfare state and big government that drove the internal arguments in the Republican Party in that era, but rather one of attitudes. The editors of NR as well as hard-core conservatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not blasted for their beliefs as Nelson Rockefeller and Co. were but because they differ with Cruz on tactics.

What we are seeing here is nothing less than a call for a Leninist-style schism on the right in which NR and McConnell are treated as the Mensheviks to the Tea Party’s Bolsheviks. Anyone who won’t hue to the Cruz party line isn’t merely wrong but, as Erickson’s piece seems to indicate, worthy of being read out of the conservative movement and denounced as betrayers.

This makes sense only if you are of the mindset that anyone not willing to shut down the government is indistinguishable from Barack Obama no matter how conservative they might be. As such, what we are witnessing is not an attempt to convert the Republican Party into a gathering of conservatives—something a previous generation of conservatives accomplished under the leadership of Ronald Reagan—but a war on rational conservatism whose only end is the immolation of the movement the Gipper helped build.

What does this portend?

It’s too soon to know for sure, but right now I’m starting to think that those inclined to pooh-pooh the chances for a genuine split are wrong. If that portion of the conservative base listens to Cruz and Erickson they are going to spend much of the next year trying to exact revenge on the senator’s critics. And if that means helping to knock off genuine conservatives like McConnell who will almost certainly be replaced in the Senate not by more Cruz clones but by liberal Democrats, they think it’s no great loss because such people are more interested in purifying the GOP than in beating the Democrats. Assembling a national coalition that could enable conservatives to govern is a matter of complete indifference to them and they seem openly contemptuous of the necessity of gaining Republican majorities and a Republican president in order to advance the conservative agenda.

This drama will be played out in many states next year in the midterm elections, but it will come to a head in 2016 when a single formidable moderate conservative may possibly be opposed by a split field of right-wingers in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. If so, those today yelling about the betrayal of Cruz are likely to be louder and even more self-destructive. A few more years in which Tea Partiers stop seeing themselves as the vanguard of the conservative movement but as members of a different political alignment altogether could lead to exactly the kind of right-wing walkout from the GOP that was threatened in 2008 and 2012 but never actually materialized. If so, we may look back on the aftermath of the shutdown as not just a foolish argument started by frustrated conservatives but the beginning of a schism that enabled the Democrats to consolidate their hold on power in Washington for the foreseeable future.

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What’s Good for Cruz May Be Bad for GOP

The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

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The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

The disconnect between the way Cruz’s antics have played with the Tea Party and the perception of his conduct among the rest of the electorate, not to mention the Republican leaders, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Cruz was sent to the Senate by Texans to shake up the Senate and to oppose the increase in debt and the growth in federal power that ObamaCare symbolizes. Throughout his 10 months in office, he has consistently played to the crowd outside of Washington that isn’t interested in how laws get passed or the way politicians get things done in the Capitol. When Cruz tells the GOP base that President Obama and the Democrats would have cracked and given in on ObamaCare if only more Republicans had backed him, they believe it even if it flies in the face of common sense.

But while party leaders vow they won’t get pressured by Cruz and his friends in the House Tea Party caucus into another shutdown fiasco (as Senator Mitch McConnell keeps saying, the second kick of the mule to your head has no educational value), sticking to his rhetorical guns only makes the Texan more popular among those on the right who want no accommodation or compromise with Democrats even if it means a shutdown or a debt default.

The national polling numbers for Republicans as well as those in the generic congressional vote are getting to the point where the shutdown may have made some heretofore-safe GOP House seats competitive and some competitive races safe for the Democrats. The Republicans’ chances of taking back the Senate next year must also be deemed as having moved from even to a long shot. A year is a long time in politics. The ObamaCare rollout disaster and the president’s tin-eared refusal to adequately explain this problem may start the process of reversing the effects of the shutdown and make 2014 a good year for Republicans after all. But it is also possible that the idea that the GOP is run by a pack of extremists led by Cruz that is relentlessly pushed by the liberal mainstream media will take hold in the public imagination to the point where it can’t be reversed. Cruz’s increased notoriety may help depress the value of the GOP brand nationally to the point where the party may be in bigger trouble than anyone thinks.

But even if this worst-case scenario plays out for Republicans, don’t expect this to diminish Cruz’s hold on many conservatives. Indeed, by standing out in this manner and being willing to fight no matter how hopeless the struggle, he may have already become a conservative folk hero and leapfrogged over others who were hoping to run in 2016.

Cruz is a particular threat to Senator Rand Paul. Paul appeared to have expanded the libertarian base he inherited from his father into a faction that was big enough to fuel an effective challenge for the 2016 Republican nomination. But right now, Cruz’s anti-ObamaCare suicide charge appears to have supplanted Paul in the hearts of grassroots conservatives whose enmity for Obama and big government is boundless. Nor should other potential candidates like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum assume that Cruz couldn’t threaten their support among religious conservatives.

To note Cruz’s popularity on the right is not to assume that he is the inevitable 2012 GOP nominee. More mainstream candidates with better chances in a general election like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be able to either win without competing for right-wing voters or transcend Cruz’s appeal.

But no one should underestimate Cruz at this point. Right now it looks like Cruz’s popularity on the right seems to have an inverse relationship to his party’s falling stock. If this trend continues, the GOP looks to be in big trouble next year and in 2016 even as Cruz becomes a credible threat to win his party’s presidential nomination. You don’t have to be a deep thinker about Washington politics or even much of a cynic to realize that perhaps this was the point of much of what we’ve just gone through.

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Can GOP Win Budget Language War?

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

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There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

At the heart of this problem for Republicans is the fact that their opponents’ demands have been every bit as ideological as their own in the various budget negotiations. If Republicans are adamant that spending must be reined in and that, as McConnell rightly asserts, the country’s problem isn’t that taxes are too low, then how can that position be branded as extremist when Democrats are digging in their heels, demanding that entitlement programs be preserved intact and that taxes must go up? Rather than merely rail at the unfairness of it all, it’s time conservatives started calling out Obama in the same manner that they have been labeled.

Can it work?

Well, as some on the right would be the first to point out, it doesn’t matter what they say if it is only being transmitted to much of the public via the filter of mainstream liberal publications and broadcast outlets. But such a defeatist attitude fails to take into account that earlier generations of conservatives—in particular Ronald Reagan—managed to change the way the country thought about the welfare state in an even more hostile media environment. If Reagan could convince Americans that government was the problem in an era when national television news meant three liberal talking heads and without the help of Fox News and conservative talk radio, how is it that those who claim to be his successors are incapable of changing the way contemporary issues are framed?

It may not be fair to compare anyone to the “Great Communicator,” but the lesson here is not that Republicans need another Reagan. That would be nice, but a more realistic hope is for their talking heads and leaders to concentrate their fire on the unwillingness of the president and his supporters to drop their addiction to taxes and spending. Language not only counts, it is decisive in determining the outcome of political battles. Tea Partiers who are currently obsessed with anger at those on the right who understood that the shutdown was a fiasco need to refocus their ire at the White House. If Republicans hope not to be schooled again by Obama, they’d better start following McConnell’s lead and turning the hostage metaphor around.

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Immigration Reform’s Death Certificate

Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

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Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

Even as he disavowed any interest in persuading House Republicans to adopt his bill or to trust the administration to implement it or any other measure, Rubio still defended his decision to take part in the gang of eight. He rightly noted once again that the “amnesty” for illegals that conservative critics of reform decry better describes the status quo than a future in which they would be brought in from the shadows after paying fines and placed at the back of the line. He’s also right that the country desperately needs reform of a broken system and that those who favor stricter enforcement should applaud the Senate bill’s emphasis on the subject, which some have even dubbed overkill.

But even though he’s sticking to his guns as to why the bill was right on policy, Rubio is finally conceding that it is politically impossible.

Earlier in the year, many conservatives, including those who support immigration reform, thought President Obama wanted the bipartisan bill to fail so he could cynically continue to use the issue to hammer Republicans in the next election cycle. But the president wisely kept silent through much of the spring and stayed out of the Senate fight, enabling the bill’s passage. By claiming that the president has undermined bipartisanship even on this topic, Rubio is declaring that bipartisanship on any issue has become impossible in the current political environment.

There will be those who will blame this on the GOP architects of the shutdown strategy and there will be some truth to that assertion. But partisan gutter fighting is a two-way street. By ruthlessly choosing to exploit his advantage and not negotiate with Republicans over the shutdown and the debt ceiling, the president has made trust across the political aisle a thing of the past.

While there may be months of bitter wrangling over immigration ahead of us, Rubio’s statement makes it clear that Congress is no more capable of crafting a compromise on this issue than they were on other topics. That’s bad for those who care about this issue and bad for those Republicans who, like Rubio, knew this was an opportunity for their party to jettison the anti-immigrant sentiments that are undermining its future.

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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Exaggerating the Shutdown’s Cost

The federal government of the United States, the largest fiscal entity on the planet, was shut for 16 days. What was the economic impact?

The mainstream media, of course, is always happy to report bad news that they can blame on Republicans. The New York Times, for instance, reported today “economists said that the intransigence of House Republicans would take a bite out of fourth-quarter growth, which will affect employment, business earnings and borrowing costs. The ripple from Washington will be felt around the globe.” The intransigence of Harry Reid and Barack Obama, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

To be sure there were costs. Hotel reservations in Washington, D.C., were down about 8.3 percent (but liquor sales, always robust in the District, were up about 3 percent.) Enterprises dependent on shuttered national parks, such as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, certainly took a hit. Furloughed federal employees did not receive their salaries, and their travel and other expenses ceased.

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The federal government of the United States, the largest fiscal entity on the planet, was shut for 16 days. What was the economic impact?

The mainstream media, of course, is always happy to report bad news that they can blame on Republicans. The New York Times, for instance, reported today “economists said that the intransigence of House Republicans would take a bite out of fourth-quarter growth, which will affect employment, business earnings and borrowing costs. The ripple from Washington will be felt around the globe.” The intransigence of Harry Reid and Barack Obama, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

To be sure there were costs. Hotel reservations in Washington, D.C., were down about 8.3 percent (but liquor sales, always robust in the District, were up about 3 percent.) Enterprises dependent on shuttered national parks, such as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, certainly took a hit. Furloughed federal employees did not receive their salaries, and their travel and other expenses ceased.

According to ABC News, Moody’s Analytics says that the shutdown cost $23 billion, or $1.4375 billion per day. The country’s GDP is about 46 billion a day. Standard and Poor’s, which had estimated 4th quarter growth at 3 percent, now says it will be closer to 2 percent. Others have different figures. IHS  Global Insight, according to NBC News, cut its 4th quarter GDP estimates from 2.2 percent growth to 1.6 percent growth. These figures, especially this early after the end of the shutdown, are guesstimates at best.

But the important point is how much of that lost GDP is lost forever? The trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that was cancelled last week might well be rescheduled for next week, or next year. Government orders for goods and services were put on hold, but they will be ordered now that the shutdown is over. The furloughed federal workers will now be paid for the days they were idled.

The last shutdown, which lasted 17 days in 1995-96, caused a hit to the GDP in those quarters. But the next two quarters saw above average economic growth, so that the long-term economic growth was essentially unaffected. Indeed, the only real loss here in the long term may be the work product of the furloughed federal workers. But I’ll guess that the productivity of federal bureaucrats is not one of the wonders of the world.

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Can the Obama Revival Succeed?

Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

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Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

It needs to be remembered that one aspect of the president’s victory speech today was true. There were no true winners in the shutdown because, as the polls consistently showed, everyone in Washington has suffered a decline in popularity including the president and the Democrats. Republicans are, of course, in a worse position than the Democrats as surveys showed that anywhere from 10 to 20 percentage points more people though the GOP deserved more of the blame for the shutdown than the Democrats. But every poll has also showed negative favorability ratings for the President and his party too. Any other president who got only a 37 percent favorable rating (as was the case in one AP poll last week) would be considered to be in a free fall as was the case the last time it happened during George W. Bush’s second term.

The next big fight will be in the budget negotiations that will soon start as Congress begins the slow motion prelude to the next threat of a shutdown or debt ceiling expiration. The president’s “no negotiations” stance during the shutdown was irresponsible and helped precipitate the crisis but it also strengthened his standing with his supporters. After that performance, it is not likely that Republicans can be persuaded to think that he will blink the next time the two parties go to the brink.

But if the GOP can avoid be tagged with threats of shutdowns and defaults, they will remember that talks about reforming entitlements and cutting spending are their strong points. The acceptance of the sequester — which may not be ideal but has illustrated that cutting spending is possible — has shown that they’ve largely won the argument about the need to reduce expenditures and the debt. So long as Cruz and Lee are not allowed to steer the GOP into another ditch, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stand a good chance of gaining a far more favorable resolution of the next budget crisis.

Nor can the president assume he will win on other issues, such as his desire for a comprehensive farm bill boondoggle or even on immigration reform, where he can count on the support of many Republicans. As his failed effort to get gun control legislation through Congress earlier this year showed, the president has no talent for building coalitions or persuading people to compromise. That’s because he is personally allergic to the concept and openly contemptuous of his political foes in a way that makes it impossible for him to win them over even when it might be in their interests to join with him.

Once he lost control of both houses of Congress in 2010 after the public punished the Democrats for the stimulus and ObamaCare, we found out this is a president who can only win when the GOP hands him a victory on a silver platter. Without such aid, he will always falter due to his lack of leadership and decisiveness. And he will continue to be dogged by the ongoing failure of ObamaCare whose negative impact on the economy will soon overshadow the talk about the damage down by the shutdown. Those factors should weigh more heavily in voters’ minds next November than Cruz’s antics, leaving the president even weaker in his final two years in office.

This is a good day for the president and he would be a fool not to try and use it as the launching point for a political counter-offensive aimed at making us forget how miserable the first nine months of 2013 were for him. But unless the Republicans blow themselves up again without much Democratic assistance, this may be as good as it gets until it’s time to pack up and go home.

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The Right’s Epistemic Closure

In a story in the Washington Post, we read this:

And despite what most see as a debacle for Republicans, a core group of conservatives insisted Tuesday that they are winning their battle to force concessions from Democrats on fiscal issues.

The president, they say, has been forced into a negotiation, even though he has said he will cede nothing in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The nation’s attention has been focused on problems with the health-care law. And, they say, making Boehner move to the right is itself a victory.

“People said, ‘Don’t dare shut the government down, because the American people will hate you.’ And we’ve got resolve,” said Rep. John Fleming (La.). Fleming backed Boehner’s approach Tuesday morning.

“We’ve won in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers we’ve broken down here.”

That’s not all:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said conservatives have succeeded in exposing problems with the health-care law.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” he said, describing what his wing of the party had won in the shutdown. “Look, the rollout was atrocious, this is a fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal-clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare.”

This is fairly extraordinary. The results of the approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

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In a story in the Washington Post, we read this:

And despite what most see as a debacle for Republicans, a core group of conservatives insisted Tuesday that they are winning their battle to force concessions from Democrats on fiscal issues.

The president, they say, has been forced into a negotiation, even though he has said he will cede nothing in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The nation’s attention has been focused on problems with the health-care law. And, they say, making Boehner move to the right is itself a victory.

“People said, ‘Don’t dare shut the government down, because the American people will hate you.’ And we’ve got resolve,” said Rep. John Fleming (La.). Fleming backed Boehner’s approach Tuesday morning.

“We’ve won in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers we’ve broken down here.”

That’s not all:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said conservatives have succeeded in exposing problems with the health-care law.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” he said, describing what his wing of the party had won in the shutdown. “Look, the rollout was atrocious, this is a fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal-clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare.”

This is fairly extraordinary. The results of the approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Apart from that, it was a huge success.

People like Representatives Fleming and Harris are living in a closed world, a fantasy land, a fairy tale. They seem to be impervious to evidence — even overwhelming evidence — that contradicts what they believe. And so they have convinced themselves that the disaster engineered by a significant group of House Republicans, following the lead of Ted Cruz & Company, was a success.

Is what we’re seeing simply ludicrous spin, or something else that goes deeper? Is it a species of delusion that is rooted in epistemic closure? Neither explanation is good, but the latter is, from the perspective of one who deeply cares about conservatism, much more worrisome. And I suspect that it is, unfortunately, a good deal closer to the truth. 

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Cruz’s Lack of Surprise is Surprising

Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

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Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

Though Cruz appears to be positioning himself to blame members of his own party — the so-called “surrender caucus” — for the failure of this tactic, let’s have a moment of clarity before the recriminations formally begin.

The shutdown ploy didn’t fail because Republicans failed Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and the rest of the crew that pushed them down this path. The GOP did stick together as he urged them to do through 16 days of a government shutdown as their poll ratings plummeted and the nation grew increasingly uneasy at the spectacle of Washington dysfunction. It failed because, as more sensible conservatives had warned all along, it was a strategy without a path to victory. All the Democrats had to do was to hang tough and wait out the Republicans. Though it took longer than most observers thought it would, that’s what happened. Since even Cruz knows that the GOP can’t countenance anything that even smacks of a defaulting on the national debt, after “fighting the good fight,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to throw in the towel.

The cause for which Cruz and other Tea Partiers labored here was a good one. ObamaCare is a disaster and should be stopped. And if the country hadn’t spent the last two weeks obsessing about the shutdown and the debt ceiling, maybe more of the mainstream media would have been forced to expend their resources covering the fiasco that was its rollout.

Nor are President Obama and the Democrats blameless here. Their refusal to negotiate with Boehner and the Republicans until the latter were forced to surrender almost unconditionally was irresponsible. So, too, were the administration’s efforts to exacerbate the effects of the shutdown.

But the bottom line is that Ted Cruz charted a course for his party that he knew all along would result in a catastrophic failure and never acknowledged that truth or sought to change course. For all of his self righteous anger at the establishment — much of which I would concede is at times entirely appropriate — what he has done is every bit as cynical as anything DC veterans have done.

While the Republican Party will recover from this debacle and live to fight another day on budget issues, entitlement reform, the debt and ObamaCare, it has been materially damaged by the strategy Cruz recklessly advocated. For that he should be held as accountable. For all of his virtues, and they are not inconsiderable, if the GOP is to eventually prevail on these issues in the future one thing is clear: it won’t happen under the leadership of Cruz or anyone like him.

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Can a Deadbeat America Stay on Top?

In the 19th century, individual deadbeats could go to prison and countries that defaulted on their debt could be invaded. To choose only two examples of many, Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 because those countries were not meeting their obligations to international debt-holders.

Today we take a far more relaxed view about owing money. The law makes bankruptcy relatively easy and painless for individuals and corporations–at least less painful than the prospect of debtors’ prison. There is no ethic of living within your means; instead we are now encouraged to run up debt, whether via a home mortgage or a credit card bill, and spend, spend, spend. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we don’t need to return to the Puritanical, anti-debt attitude of the 19th century. There is nothing wrong with a responsible amount of debt, whether for a family or a country.

But we are carrying our easy-going modern-day ethos a little too far when we run the risk of defaulting on the debt of the United States. Odds are we will see an 11th-hour reprieve from this calamity; at least the markets seem to think so, judging by the run-up of stocks in recent days. But, even if we avert the worst today, it is grossly irresponsible and harmful for lawmakers—meaning principally Tea Party hardliners in the House—to have allowed the deadline to come so close.

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In the 19th century, individual deadbeats could go to prison and countries that defaulted on their debt could be invaded. To choose only two examples of many, Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 because those countries were not meeting their obligations to international debt-holders.

Today we take a far more relaxed view about owing money. The law makes bankruptcy relatively easy and painless for individuals and corporations–at least less painful than the prospect of debtors’ prison. There is no ethic of living within your means; instead we are now encouraged to run up debt, whether via a home mortgage or a credit card bill, and spend, spend, spend. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we don’t need to return to the Puritanical, anti-debt attitude of the 19th century. There is nothing wrong with a responsible amount of debt, whether for a family or a country.

But we are carrying our easy-going modern-day ethos a little too far when we run the risk of defaulting on the debt of the United States. Odds are we will see an 11th-hour reprieve from this calamity; at least the markets seem to think so, judging by the run-up of stocks in recent days. But, even if we avert the worst today, it is grossly irresponsible and harmful for lawmakers—meaning principally Tea Party hardliners in the House—to have allowed the deadline to come so close.

Thankfully the U.S. armed forces are still strong enough—for the time being anyway—to prevent the Chinese military from showing up on our shores to collect the trillions we owe them. (But for how much longer? Given the increases in Chinese military spending and our own across-the-board cuts as a result of the mindless sequestration process, the trends are not favorable when it comes to the shifting balance of power in the Pacific.) But the U.S. cannot rely on military strength alone. Much of our economic strength is underpinned by the fact that the dollar is the favorite reserve currency in the world and by the fact that the U.S. is the favorite destination for foreign investment.

That strong financial position will not be sacrificed overnight. But it will gradually erode if we have too many more perils-of-Pauline flirtations with a sovereign debt default. Already China’s Xinhua news agency is using this occasion to call for the world to “de-Americanize.” Such calls are likely to fall on deaf ears—for now. But we cannot afford to make the world think there is any doubt about America’s ability and willingness to repay its debts. That is a fundamental obligation of government, which, if called into question, will erode our national standing and hence our national security. There is no excuse for the willingness of some lawmakers to drive us so close to the cliff’s edge.

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Credit Ratings and the Debt

Fitch, one of the three credit rating agencies (the other two are Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s), warned yesterday that it has put the federal government on “negative watch” with regard to its credit rating, which Fitch has now at its highest, AAA. Standard and Poor’s lowered the country’s credit rating two years ago, during the last debt ceiling crisis, to AA. Moody’s has not indicated any change in its rating is pending.

It is the job of credit rating agencies to assess the risk in any security, whether governmental or corporate, and reflect that risk in its rating. AAA means that there is virtually no risk of a failure to pay principal or interest. In Fitch’s rating system, the bottom is D, which means that the security is already in default and unlikely to have any worth in the future. Illinois, which has horrendous pension liabilities and a political deadlock on dealing with them, has the lowest rating of any state (A-, with a negative outlook, on Fitch). That’s still investment grade, but a full six notches below the top rating.

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Fitch, one of the three credit rating agencies (the other two are Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s), warned yesterday that it has put the federal government on “negative watch” with regard to its credit rating, which Fitch has now at its highest, AAA. Standard and Poor’s lowered the country’s credit rating two years ago, during the last debt ceiling crisis, to AA. Moody’s has not indicated any change in its rating is pending.

It is the job of credit rating agencies to assess the risk in any security, whether governmental or corporate, and reflect that risk in its rating. AAA means that there is virtually no risk of a failure to pay principal or interest. In Fitch’s rating system, the bottom is D, which means that the security is already in default and unlikely to have any worth in the future. Illinois, which has horrendous pension liabilities and a political deadlock on dealing with them, has the lowest rating of any state (A-, with a negative outlook, on Fitch). That’s still investment grade, but a full six notches below the top rating.

The agencies don’t always get it right, of course. They all completely failed to see the risk in mortgage-backed securities and rated them AAA. When the housing bubble collapsed, many of the subprime mortgages lurched into foreclosure. That made the bonds they (along with non-subprime mortgages) collateralized unsellable because no one knew the value of the underlying assets. Unsellable securities are, by economic definition, worthless. Unfortunately, many of the too-big-to-fail banks had loaded up on these mortgage-backed securities because of their AAA ratings and relatively good yields. When the market in those bonds cratered during the crisis, some of those banks became technically insolvent. The Treasury had to ride to the rescue with TARP money lest the entire United States banking system collapse. (Once the dust settled, and the market for mortgage-backed securities came back to life, the banks were able to pay back the TARP money.)

What would a cut in the government’s credit rating mean? Principally, it would be a huge political embarrassment. The United States is, by far, the richest country the world has ever known. The federal government’s annual income from taxes and fees ($2.7 trillion in 2013) exceeds the total GDP of all but five countries. So to have its credit rating knocked down would be an embarrassment perhaps on a par with Warren Buffett having his American Express card declined at a restaurant.

More significant, credit ratings determine relative interest rates. One of the iron laws of economics is that risk and reward must balance (at least in the long term). The greater the risk, the greater the reward, in terms of interest income, must be to get buyers to hold your paper. Since the United States owes $17 trillion, a mere one-percentage point increase in interest costs would add $170 billion to the cost of servicing the debt. (About one-third of the debt turns over every year.) With interest rates likely to begin to creep up as the Fed slowly cuts back on its stimulus, the percentage of federal revenues that have to be used for debt service will rise anyway. Any significant addition to that burden would seriously impact federal spending in other areas.

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Is the Shutdown Caucus Happy Now?

Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

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Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

It still remains to be seen whether Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will fall on their swords and try to delay or prevent the Senate bill re-opening the government from passing. It is also possible that Speaker Boehner may try one more last, likely futile, parliamentary trick to cook up a deal that will be marginally more favorable to conservative interests. But the odds are, by the end of the week, we’ll be talking about Congress having to clean up the rubble left behind by the brutal battle these two and their House Tea Party friends fomented.

It’s also likely that they will take no responsibility for this crushing defeat. If anything, we can expect that they will blame their failure to come up with a strategy that had a chance of success or even an endgame that would allow their party a dignified path of retreat, on more reasonable Republicans — wrongly called RINOs by some Tea Partiers — who looked on in horror as they goaded Boehner to take the GOP over the cliff. But let’s make it clear that what is happening now isn’t the fault of those who said all along that this wouldn’t work. It’s the responsibility of a faction that simply wasn’t thinking straight about the best way to advance their goals and wound up doing more damage to the conservative movement than the Democrats could have ever done without their help.

As bad as it looks now, having wasted the country’s time in this manner won’t mean the end of the Republican Party. Like any party that doesn’t control the White House, it will remain divided and prey to factional disputes. But it will survive to fight another day and, with luck, will still be in position to hold onto the House and maybe even challenge the Democrats for control of the Senate next year. Perhaps once the shutdown is over, the nation will turn its full attention to the debacle of the ObamaCare rollout, which is where it should have been all along.

But neither should we forget who were the architects of defeat this week. John Boehner may be the poor soul who will have to preside over the formal surrender to the Democrats who will rightly crow about how they stood up to the Tea Party and defended the president’s signature health care legislation. Cruz and Lee and all those House members who thought this was a good idea owe their party and the country a better explanation than the one we’re likely to hear. And if either ever seeks the leadership of the party in 2016, they should be called to account for what they’ve done.

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Playing the Racism Card in the Shutdown

 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

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 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

The headline of his article was “Government shutdown unleashes racism” and it was accompanied by a photo of Tea Party demonstrator waving a Confederate flag in front of the White House at a demonstration this past weekend. But the headline promised more than Simon could deliver as the only points presented in the piece that backed up the accusation lodged in the headline was the flag and a comment made on radio by “Joe the Plumber,” the conservative pseudo celebrity of the 2008 campaign who said in his blog that America needed a “white Republican president” to replace Barack Obama. Other than these two items, Simon’s piece was just the standard denunciation of the Republican stand on the shutdown and it was that theme rather than racism riff that was its substance.

I happen to agree with Simon, and probably most other Americans, that what the plumber said is racist and has no place in our public discourse, though if liberal pundits weren’t recycling the writings of the artist otherwise known as Samuel Wurzelbacher, I’m not sure that most of us would be aware of them.

I also agree that there is something offensive about waving Confederate flags in just about any context other than a Civil War reenactment. I know that those from the Old South see it as part of their heritage but I think we should be able to evolve as a nation away from the “Gone With The Wind” view of the War Between the States. Which means that the rebel battle flag is, whether inhabitants of the old Confederacy like it or not, a symbol of racism and treason (a term I know I employ at the risk of generating a host of angry comments from those unreconstructed Confederates who think the Civil War was about state’s rights rather than slavery and who believe recycling Jefferson Davis’ views about the right of secession isn’t irrational). While the attempts of many liberals like Chris Matthews to interpret all criticism of President Obama as being motivated by racism is slanderous as well as utterly disingenuous, I will concede to Simon that anyone who waves the stars and bars in front of the Obamas’ current residence is pretty much asking to be labeled a bigot and should get no defense from any responsible conservative.

The bias in discussing this issue doesn’t stem from a desire to condemn people who do such stupid things. Rather it is in the unwillingness to place them in reasonable context.

After all, at the height of the public protests against the Iraq War, the mass demonstrations in major American cities convened by liberal groups included large numbers of people who were more or less the leftist moral equivalent of the flag waver at the White House. You didn’t have to work hard at these events to find considerable numbers of those demonstrators waving signs accusing George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney of being Nazis. Nor was there any shortage of rhetoric from these people demanding the ouster of the government of the republic by any means necessary. Yet that didn’t stop the mainstream liberal media from depicting the demonstrations as being in no way tainted by extremists who were along for the ride or from asserting, probably rightly, that they were a reflection of a large segment of American public opinion.

Just as the vast majority of those who wanted out of Iraq were able to see the difference between Bush/Cheney and Hitler, playing the racism card against the Tea Party is intellectually lazy as well as wrong. Both the left and the right need to do a better job policing those on the margins of mainstream movements. But that is not the same thing as painting an entire ideological segment of the public as a function of the fever swamps. Call Republicans who hatched the shutdown strategy misguided or even stupid if you like, but associating all those who want to restrain government spending and taxing and to repeal Obamacare, with racism is slander, not a rational argument.

That liberal pundits can’t resist the temptation to play off this meme says more about media bias than it does about problems on the right.

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The GOP Chooses Surrender Over Suicide

After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

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After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

At this point, the problem is no longer about who is to blame for this.

Yes, as I have noted many times, blaming it all on the Tea Party doesn’t tell us much about how it happened. President Obama and the Democrats are being just as ideological as the GOP when they say they will not accept the defunding of ObamaCare. It’s also true that the president has been hoping for a shutdown since 2011 because he thought it would damage Republicans. His refusal to negotiate made the standoff happen and his party is also suffering a decline in public approval as a result of it.

But let’s also not deceive ourselves about which side gave Obama what he wanted. Conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee pushed for a showdown because they assured us that if Republicans hung tough, the president would blink. Much to the dismay of many more sober conservatives, Speaker Boehner went along with them and the GOP did wind up hanging as tough as the Tea Partiers had demanded. But as just about everybody who didn’t drink Cruz’s Kool-Aid predicted, the Democrats also stood their ground. With control of the Senate and the White House, the Democrats have a clear advantage over the Republicans and used it. If Boehner is now looking for the exit sign from the dead end that his party’s hardliners backed him into, it is because there really isn’t a choice.

No doubt conservatives will try and cling to some of the fig leaves left the in the Senate and House versions of the deal and say they accomplished something. But this will be as disingenuous as the Democrats’ claim to be the adults in the room. This is a Republican defeat pure and simple and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. And they’re accepting it because the alternative is to do the country material damage and to dig an even deeper political hole than the one they’ve already dug for themselves.

If there is anything to be retrieved from the rubble of the shutdown for Republicans it is the hope that the budget conference that is part of the deal might enable Rep. Paul Ryan — the voice of principle and sanity in the GOP caucus — to move the discussion from the simplistic demands of Cruz and Lee to a more productive debate about entitlement reform and debt that will strengthen the party’s position.

But that’s a discussion for another day. The real story now is about a GOP decision between surrender and suicide and their inevitable vote in favor of the former. It’s a bitter day for Boehner but the ones who should really be eating crow are Cruz, Lee and all those who backed him into this foolish gambit.

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The Democratic Moment Won’t Last

With days to go before the artificial deadline set for the national debt ceiling to expire, there’s little doubt that Democrats believe the political pendulum has swung in their direction. Polls show them to be the beneficiaries of the disgust felt over the government shutdown and the general dysfunction evident in Washington. But they are just as encouraged by what they not reasonably conclude is division in the ranks of their foes. Republicans still seem split between those who are working to find a way out of the dead end that advocates of the shutdown have steered them into and those who are still insisting that what is needed is more determination to stick to their principles on the debt and ObamaCare while waiting for the Democrats to blink even if it is more likely that hell will freeze over first. President Obama spent the last two years daring the Republicans to shut down the government in the hope that it would be a political disaster for the GOP. Now that he seems to have been proven right, Democrats believe a moment has arrived in which they may not only rout the Tea Party but perhaps alter the dynamic of budget negotiations that have seemed to run against their big government beliefs for the past few years.

That’s what motivated Senator Harry Reid to refuse to accept what might have been considered a Republican surrender offer over the weekend. Rather than accept a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the current debt ceiling with no conditions as they had been calling for over the last month, Democrats raised the ante in the talks about finding a way out of the current impasse. Now they are demanding a relatively quick end to sequester budget cuts and are refusing even to accept a permanent repeal of the ObamaCare medical device tax, a face-saving measure that would allow the Republicans to act as if they had not been completely defeated.

Reid and the president are hoping Republicans are sufficiently spooked by the prospect of a default to surrender on those humiliating terms. But as strong as their position seems to be today, Democrats are still very much in danger of overplaying their hand. That’s not just because if the nation does slide into economic difficulties as a result of the expiration of the current debt ceiling and the shutdown the administration and its allies will be blamed along with the GOP. But by moving the discussion from what is perceived to be an unreasonable Republican demand to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded to one about expanding debt and spending, Democrats are shifting the struggle back onto strong ground for their opponents.

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With days to go before the artificial deadline set for the national debt ceiling to expire, there’s little doubt that Democrats believe the political pendulum has swung in their direction. Polls show them to be the beneficiaries of the disgust felt over the government shutdown and the general dysfunction evident in Washington. But they are just as encouraged by what they not reasonably conclude is division in the ranks of their foes. Republicans still seem split between those who are working to find a way out of the dead end that advocates of the shutdown have steered them into and those who are still insisting that what is needed is more determination to stick to their principles on the debt and ObamaCare while waiting for the Democrats to blink even if it is more likely that hell will freeze over first. President Obama spent the last two years daring the Republicans to shut down the government in the hope that it would be a political disaster for the GOP. Now that he seems to have been proven right, Democrats believe a moment has arrived in which they may not only rout the Tea Party but perhaps alter the dynamic of budget negotiations that have seemed to run against their big government beliefs for the past few years.

That’s what motivated Senator Harry Reid to refuse to accept what might have been considered a Republican surrender offer over the weekend. Rather than accept a so-called clean bill that would reopen the government and lift the current debt ceiling with no conditions as they had been calling for over the last month, Democrats raised the ante in the talks about finding a way out of the current impasse. Now they are demanding a relatively quick end to sequester budget cuts and are refusing even to accept a permanent repeal of the ObamaCare medical device tax, a face-saving measure that would allow the Republicans to act as if they had not been completely defeated.

Reid and the president are hoping Republicans are sufficiently spooked by the prospect of a default to surrender on those humiliating terms. But as strong as their position seems to be today, Democrats are still very much in danger of overplaying their hand. That’s not just because if the nation does slide into economic difficulties as a result of the expiration of the current debt ceiling and the shutdown the administration and its allies will be blamed along with the GOP. But by moving the discussion from what is perceived to be an unreasonable Republican demand to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded to one about expanding debt and spending, Democrats are shifting the struggle back onto strong ground for their opponents.

The Republican stand on funding the government is widely seen as being driven by an ideological position on ObamaCare even if the other side is no less ideological in their insistence on preserving the president’s signature health care legislation despite its disastrous rollout and the deleterious impact it will have on the economy. That places them at a real disadvantage so long as the question is finding a way to reopen the government and ensure that the government doesn’t default.

But once the discussion turns, as Reid’s attempt to do away with sequester cuts indicates, to whether Congress will allow the government to go back to the free spending ways that actually got the country into this mess, the Democratic advantage disappears. While the sequester is not the smartest way to cut government spending and has done some damage, especially to national defense, it is not unpopular because the American people have understandably come to the conclusion that it is only by such draconian means that the nation’s spending addiction can be brought under control.

Once we stop arguing about whether the government will continue to operate or whether the national debt will be paid, the question becomes one of whether Washington is capable of reforming the entitlement spending that is sinking the nation in a sea of red ink and reducing the size of government to one that can be paid without increasing the debt. And that is where the Republicans have not only the stronger argument but also the ability to rally a majority to their side.

The question for the Republican Party isn’t really so much whether Senator Ted Cruz and the Tea Party will cause it to crash and burn and loose the 2014 midterms, as it is whether it can keep the national discussion focused on taxes and spending. If, fueled by their belief that the GOP is a rudderless and sinking ship, Obama and Reid choose to try and roll back the sequester cuts and refloat the liberal agenda in the coming weeks and months, what they will be doing is actually reviving the Republicans rather than placing a stake in their hearts. The Democratic moment we are currently experiencing is real but that irresistible liberal temptation is an almost sure guarantee that it will pass.

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RE: Shutdown Won’t Stop Park Ranger Meeting

On Thursday, I wrote about the poor optics of the decision of the Association of National Park Rangers to go ahead and hold their convention despite the government shutdown. The point was that it was hypocritical for a group whose members that have been central to the administration’s shutdown theatrics to stage a gathering at which many of the speakers would be government employees who would be coming on government time, if not the government dime.

However, as several correspondents have written, ANPR is a private organization, and its members are traveling to it at their own expense. The event is not, strictly speaking, a government function or event. While my post did not state that it was, given that the distinction was not fully explained, readers may have been left with that impression.

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On Thursday, I wrote about the poor optics of the decision of the Association of National Park Rangers to go ahead and hold their convention despite the government shutdown. The point was that it was hypocritical for a group whose members that have been central to the administration’s shutdown theatrics to stage a gathering at which many of the speakers would be government employees who would be coming on government time, if not the government dime.

However, as several correspondents have written, ANPR is a private organization, and its members are traveling to it at their own expense. The event is not, strictly speaking, a government function or event. While my post did not state that it was, given that the distinction was not fully explained, readers may have been left with that impression.

Nevertheless, the point about the inappropriate timing of the convention and the distressing use of the Park Rangers by the administration, still holds. While the ANPR website took pains to inform that the event would continue “despite the current federal government shutdown,” it is good to see that the ANPR website now includes a caveat that the “the program may require changes due to some speakers being unable to attend because of the government shutdown,” although program changes will not address the poor optics of the event.

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Why Ted Cruz is Now Discredited

I pointed out the other day that President Obama has unquestionably been hurt by the government shutdown, but Republicans have been hurt more.  

How bad is it for the GOP? 

The most recent Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans–down 10 points since September and the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” according to the Gallup analysis.

Then there’s a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which (as Rod Dreher helpfully summarizes) shows the following:

  • Only 24 percent of those polled have a positive view of the GOP. Fifty-three percent have a negative view–a differential of 29 percent.
  • By contrast, 39 percent have a positive view of the Democratic party. Forty percent have a negative view–a differential of one percent.
  • Twenty-one percent have a positive view of the Tea Party versus 47 percent who have a negative view. 
  • Forty-seven percent say they want to see Democrats control Congress while 39 percent want to see the GOP control Congress.
  • Fifty-three percent believe the GOP in Congress is most responsible for the shutdown; 31 percent believe President Obama is. Thirteen percent believe both sides are equally at fault. Three percent don’t know.
  • Seventy percent say that the congressional Republicans are putting their own agenda over the good of the country; 51 percent say Obama is doing the same.
  • Forty-three percent say ObamaCare is a bad idea; 38 percent say it’s a good idea.
  • Thirty-nine percent favor defunding ObamaCare entirely, while only 23 percent believe this so strongly that it’s worth shutting the government down. Fifty percent oppose defunding.

Question 8 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of those surveyed who want a Congress controlled by Republicans is now less than 40 percent–a low since the fall of 2009. Read More

I pointed out the other day that President Obama has unquestionably been hurt by the government shutdown, but Republicans have been hurt more.  

How bad is it for the GOP? 

The most recent Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans–down 10 points since September and the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” according to the Gallup analysis.

Then there’s a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which (as Rod Dreher helpfully summarizes) shows the following:

  • Only 24 percent of those polled have a positive view of the GOP. Fifty-three percent have a negative view–a differential of 29 percent.
  • By contrast, 39 percent have a positive view of the Democratic party. Forty percent have a negative view–a differential of one percent.
  • Twenty-one percent have a positive view of the Tea Party versus 47 percent who have a negative view. 
  • Forty-seven percent say they want to see Democrats control Congress while 39 percent want to see the GOP control Congress.
  • Fifty-three percent believe the GOP in Congress is most responsible for the shutdown; 31 percent believe President Obama is. Thirteen percent believe both sides are equally at fault. Three percent don’t know.
  • Seventy percent say that the congressional Republicans are putting their own agenda over the good of the country; 51 percent say Obama is doing the same.
  • Forty-three percent say ObamaCare is a bad idea; 38 percent say it’s a good idea.
  • Thirty-nine percent favor defunding ObamaCare entirely, while only 23 percent believe this so strongly that it’s worth shutting the government down. Fifty percent oppose defunding.

Question 8 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of those surveyed who want a Congress controlled by Republicans is now less than 40 percent–a low since the fall of 2009. As for the populist uprising against the Affordable Care Act that Senator Cruz promised? There’s evidence that support for ObamaCare has actually increased (see this analysis). 

As Jonathan (and Nate Silver) rightly point out, it’s far too early to draw definitive conclusions. Polls provide us with snapshots in time. They certainly don’t tell us everything. But they do tell us something. And the trends seem clear, and clearly worrisome, for the GOP. Which brings me to the concern many of us had with the approach taken by Senators Cruz & Co.–a group of men who, you’ll recall, demanded that Republicans shut down the federal government if the president didn’t agree to defund his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. 

The concerns about the approach used by Senator Cruz were several-fold: (a) it was misleading (there was no chance the Affordable Care Act would be defunded); (b) it was irresponsible (Senators Cruz, Rubio and Lee accused conservatives who disagreed with the Cruz approach as being de facto supporters of the Affordable Care Act); and (c) it chose to fight the president on the weakest available ground (as unpopular as ObamaCare is, the defunding idea was never popular with the public). It also deflected attention away from the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges and blew to pieces a far more plausible strategy, which was to focus on delaying for a year implementation of the individual mandate (which has widespread popular support).

“I think it was very possible for us to delay the implementation of ObamaCare for a year until Cruz came along and crashed and burned,” according to conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

More broadly, some of us on the right were concerned that this kind of brinksmanship approach tends to hurt, not help, the party squaring off against the president, who brings to the battle tremendous institutional advantages. And while engaging in this fight wouldn’t produce any particularly meaningful results, what it might well accomplish is erasing the political advantage Republicans had built up over many months. That, too, appears to be happening. According to Gallup, the sharp drop in support for Republicans since September “contrasts with previous Gallup findings from just before the government shutdown showing the Republican Party making up ground on a few key issues.”

Such are the bitter fruits that resulted from the Suicide Caucus. But in all of this bad news there is something hopeful to be found: Ted Cruz has become increasingly toxic and may well have discredited himself with many Republicans and conservatives. He certainly should have.

Mr. Cruz’s actions weren’t wrong because they failed. They were wrong because they were ill-considered, imprudent, selfish, and harmful to his party and the conservative cause. He didn’t achieve anything he insisted he would–and, in the process, he set back conservatism in several respects. Liberals must be thanking their lucky stars for the junior senator from Texas. 

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Assessing the GOP’s Shutdown Blues

If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

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If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

For a sober analysis of just how much the Democrats have gained from this episode, it’s instructive to turn to a liberal voice that has been silent for much of the last year: Nate Silver. Silver, the liberal statistician who rocketed to fame as the New York Times’s peerless blogger/prognosticator left the Grey Lady for what will presumably be further fame and fortune at ESPN (he started out as a baseball analyst before he began handicapping elections). But until his new sports site goes up, he’s resurrected his FiveThirtyEight.com blog and weighed in on the shutdown impasse yesterday with some insightful comments about recent events that should give liberals proclaiming victory some food for thought.

His half-dozen bullet points about the partisan confrontation may be debated, but I think they are largely right.

First, is his belief that the media is overhyping the impact of the shutdown. In a 24/7 news cycle, every big story seems like World War Three but, as Silver points out, other huge stories have already come and gone in the past several months like Syria, the IRS Scandal, Benghazi, or even last winter’s fiscal cliff showdown, and if you watch cable news or read the leading dailies, it’s almost as if they never happened. The notion that anything that happens this week or next, short of a real U.S. default (which is not going to happen no matter how the negotiations go) will have much of an impact on November 2014 is simply unfounded.

Just as interesting is his pointing out that the inspiration for President Obama’s decision to dare the GOP to shut down the government shouldn’t give Democrats much comfort. The 1995 government shutdown is widely believed to have badly damaged the Republicans and strengthened President Clinton. As Silver correctly notes, the GOP was not really hurt by the shutdown, as they held onto Congress the next year. There may be some who think it was a major factor in re-electing Bill Clinton in 1996 but count me among those who, like Silver, believe Bob Dole never had a prayer of being elected president, shutdown or no shutdown.

Third, Silver reminds us that the chances of the Democrats winning the midterm elections next year are very low. Given the paucity of competitive House seats (the Senate is very much in play with Democrats standing to lose seats) it would take a wave election for President Obama’s allies to succeed. But such a victory would be virtually unprecedented since it is virtually impossible for an incumbent president’s party to gain seats in the middle of his second term.

Silver also debunks the notion that this is purely the result of Republican gerrymandering since the allocation of seats is more the function of the way the two major parties have split along geographical lines as much ideological ones. For an excellent analysis about why blaming political extremism on gerrymandering is a myth read Sean Trende’s piece in RealClearPolitics.com today. As Trende notes, gerrymandering is an effect, not a cause, of partisanship. But the bottom line is that no matter how much bad press Republicans are getting today, the impact next year is likely to be minimal if not overwhelmed by subsequent events that may not be as favorable to Democrats.

Last, it is way too soon to understand what the result of this latest showdown will be and looking to ephemeral poll numbers (especially since they also have bad results for Obama and the Democrats) is a fool’s errand.

Republicans would do well to ponder how little was accomplished in the last two weeks as well as the responsibility of Cruz and others who are now in the process of walking away from the train wreck that Boehner will have to clean up. But while Obama and the liberals may be getting the better of the tussle today, there is no reason to believe any of it will help them unseat House Republicans.

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Public Revulsion at Our Political Institutions

The American Enterprise Institute’s Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg, in examining the trends of recent polls, find trust and confidence in government to handle domestic and international problems at their lowest level in 40 years. Two-thirds of the public say they are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Anger is rising, and the number of people who say government is too powerful is at an all-time high.

One recent poll found President Obama’s approval rating down to 38 percent, the lowest of his presidency. A survey by the Gallup organization shows the GOP is viewed favorably by just 28 percent of Americans, the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. The approval rating of Congress is 11 percent. And only 18 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup’s history of asking the question dating back to 1971.

“What is stunning about these results is just how hard and how quickly public attitudes have landed on the shutdown,” according to Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. He said the poll showed “a broad disgust for the political system.”

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The American Enterprise Institute’s Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg, in examining the trends of recent polls, find trust and confidence in government to handle domestic and international problems at their lowest level in 40 years. Two-thirds of the public say they are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Anger is rising, and the number of people who say government is too powerful is at an all-time high.

One recent poll found President Obama’s approval rating down to 38 percent, the lowest of his presidency. A survey by the Gallup organization shows the GOP is viewed favorably by just 28 percent of Americans, the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. The approval rating of Congress is 11 percent. And only 18 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup’s history of asking the question dating back to 1971.

“What is stunning about these results is just how hard and how quickly public attitudes have landed on the shutdown,” according to Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. He said the poll showed “a broad disgust for the political system.”

That’s certainly understandable, given the governing fiasco that we find ourselves in. And as a conservative, I have sympathy with those who are worried about the size, scope, and power of the federal government. 

At the same time, anyone who believes politics matters and, at its best, involves the (imperfect) pursuit of justice and the common good has to find this present moment discouraging and disquieting. However we got here and whoever is to blame–and we all have our opinions about the hierarchy of responsibility–the effects are badly damaging the case of those who believe, with the founders, that “the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim.” Right now our political institutions are held in contempt. That is not a good place to be for a self-governing republic.

Now it needs to be said that the public has some complicity in all this, since our political institutions largely reflect their competing–and in some instances, contradictory–passions and desires. They are the ones who elect Louie Gohmert and Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Rand Paul, a conservative GOP House and a liberal Democratic president, and expect them to find common ground. It’s easier said than done. We’re dealing with public officials who represent constituents who don’t simply hold different policy views; they hold fundamentally different worldviews. Still, it is the job of our elected representatives, and especially the president, to reconcile these things; to use reason and judgment to temper passions. Because a lot is at stake. 

Government is, in the words of the 19th century economist Alfred Marshall, “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way.” A precious human institution is being degraded and debased by those to whom we have entrusted its care. To say so is an entirely reasonable judgment. And a damning one, too.

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