The conclusion of the federal government shutdown was as predictable as the ending of the movie “Titanic” — Republicans, having intentionally steered themselves into a political iceberg, were doomed to sink. After spending two weeks absorbing the brunt of the public’s blame for the impasse, what has the GOP to show for its gallant stand athwart history, yelling “stop”? A spending agreement between the House and Senate that maintains the status quo ante for another few months.
President Obama on Thursday said there were no winners in the shutdown. However, there certainly were some who lost more than others.
Tea party Republicans started out believing a shutdown would force Democrats to defund the Affordable Care Act, then shifted to advocating a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare’s individual mandate. When that failed, they were willing to settle for repealing an exemption for members of Congress and their staff. In the end, they got no substantial changes in the health care law.
You don’t have to be a Jedi master to have foreseen this. Anyone with basic math skills could calculate that the Republicans, controlling only one chamber of Congress, didn’t have enough votes to pass legislation or override a presidential veto. The hardliners who favored the shutdown strategy believed that the public would be on their side as the stalemate dragged on and would pressure enough Democrats to cave and oppose Obamacare.
This strategy displayed a fantastical idea of the national political landscape being an even playing field in terms of media influence. It’s not just that most things not named Fox News are hostile to conservative ideas. It’s also that Republicans, as they should have learned in the 2012 presidential election, are behind Democrats in exploiting new media to get their message out and persuade people. You can sneer at and dismiss the vapidity of Twitter, “The Life of Julia” and viral testimonies from Lena Dunham, but they are effective at promoting liberal ideas. Republicans must do a better job preparing the battlefield.
On top of that, Obamacare is for Democrats a hill worth fighting on; they were united in their stand to resist changing it. Republicans, although uniform in agreement that the health care law must go, were divided on the tactics to achieve that. Tea partiers spent as much ammunition attacking skeptical conservatives for alleged apostasy than they did aiming at the Obamacare stronghold.
And yet, even after the settlement ended the shutdown and avoided a debt-ceiling crisis, there were those inside and outside Congress who deplored the “establishment surrender” and wanted to continue the impasse. What evidence is there that holding out another week, two weeks or two months would have achieved the goal of rolling back Obamacare? Passion alone is insufficient.
Based on its spectacularly troubled launch, the health care law seems to be doing a good job of damaging itself without help from Republicans. The shutdown arguably detracted from that story — another unforced error by the GOP.
The lesson for Republicans is to pick your fights. Sometimes you don’t have to storm the barricades — you can just stand back and watch them collapse from their own weight.
— From the Panama City News Herald