Well, that was fun. Fifteen days of needless national misery – reduced corporate earnings, uninspected foods, mass furloughs, plunging consumer confidence, hotel layoffs at national parks, a damaged real estate sector, all of this costing the economy anywhere from $12 billion to $24 billion – and all because a small band of extremists actually believed it could sabotage Obamacare.
So it’s time to eulogize yet another Republican debacle. House Speaker Boehner insisted yesterday, “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.” His second sentence was accurate; losing was foreordained from day one. But his first sentence was laughable.
They waged a stupid, self-destructive fight. In the end, all they got for their extortionist effort was a minor tweak to the health reform law they had sought to derail. Meanwhile, they rocked our economy, imperiled our credit rating, embarrassed us internationally, and – oh, I almost forgot – drove their own party image to historic polling lows. As Sen. Lindsey Graham understated yesterday, “This has been a very bad two weeks for the Republican brand, for conservatism.”
The big question, however, is whether the fanatics who hijacked the GOP have learned their lesson. Take a wild guess.
Or take a moment to ponder Ted Cruz (must we?), because he epitomizes the fanatic mentality. The brash Senate frosh wreaked so much havoc these past two weeks that his home town newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, posted an editorial rebuking its own 2012 Cruz endorsement. He then capped his performance yesterday by doubling down on his own delusions. At the precise moment when it was clear that his shutdown crusade was lost, he insisted that he had actually won.
He told reporters that the futile bid to strip Obamacare was “a remarkable victory.” I kid you not. Apparently, according to his criteria, the Phillies should be in the playoffs.
But the best part was when he claimed to speak for “the American people.” In truth, he speaks for only 20 percent of the American people (the tea party’s share of the electorate), but all that matters to Cruz is the faux polling data he creates in his head. He said yesterday, “The American people rose up and spoke with an overwhelming voice, and at least at this stage Washington isn’t listening to them.” In truth, roughly 70 percent of the American people rose up and spoke with an overwhelming voice about the stupidity of shutting down the government – but hey, Cruz went to Harvard (as he likes to remind people), and he fancies himself too smart to believe stats like that.
Fanatics don’t do humility. They don’t learn lessons. They simply divert the blame – as Cruz did yesterday: “Once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people. The United States Senate has stayed with the traditional approach of the Washington establishment of maintaining the status quo.”
My translation: “The shutdown was a great thing, a debt default would’ve been a great thing, and the president would’ve cried uncle on Obamacare – but John Boehner and Mitch McConnell sold us out.” And that’s precisely how the 20 percenters will spin this sorry episode – that their crusade would’ve worked if only the Republican leaders hadn’t sold them out and stabbed them in the back.
Erick Erickson, the conservative agitator at redstate.com, is already saying it (“You will see no defunding of Obamacare because Republicans are giving up”). Matt Bevin, the right-winger who’s challenging Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s Senate Republican primary, is already saying it (McConnell “can always be counted on to sell out conservatives”). It’s the same argument they floated after Obama cleaned their clock in the ’12 election – that if only they had been more uncompromisingly conservative, the results would’ve been different.
So gird yourself for the winter of ’14. The new budget bandage, officially called a continuing resolution, expires on Jan. 15; the debt ceiling reprieve, which allows us to keep paying our bills, expires on Feb 7. Maybe the cable networks should restart their countdown clocks.
I’d love to believe that the GOP’s extremists will shrink from taking us back to the brink, but the odds are, they’ll just repeat their futility with greater zeal. Character is destiny, after all. As Alec Baldwin said to the hapless salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross, “I’d wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it…because a loser is a loser.”
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