When I was in college, one of my professors used to have a saying. If you throw enough shit on the blackboard, some of it will stick. Over the next couple of weeks expect the GOP to throw the political equivalent of a rest stop at Barack Obama’s blackboard.
Barring an as of yet unforeseen miracle, the federal government will most certainly shut down Tuesday. Even if John Boehner wanted to, he couldn’t stop his party from shipwrecking itself on the rocks. And if he did manage to grow a pair and steer his wayward ship out of harm’s way, in all likelihood it would be the last action he would take as Speaker of the House.
David Frum is right when he says the party’s problem is its inability to govern itself. It is rudderless. It must really be hard on conservatives who aren’t insane watching the party they belong to implode in such a manner. Even during the ’80s, when I had to watch Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis get beaten to death, I at least knew my party wasn’t unhinged. I don’t think the nation has ever seen anything quite like this in its history. A major political party chasing oblivion.
And yet, if I were the President and Senate Democrats, I wouldn’t light up any cigars just yet. If we know anything from the last five years, the Tea Party may be stark-raving mad, but they’ve got a ton of soft money behind them. And they are as relentless as they are crazy. Already the sleazy ads on Obamacare have hit the airwaves, not to mention the internet. They can spin bullshit like nobody’s business.
Let’s not forget that while most people may like many of the elements in the healthcare law, they most assuredly do NOT like the mandate. It matters not that some of that opposition comes from progressives still smarting about not getting a single payer or public option, I can assure you the main-stream media won’t bother parsing it out. Too much damn work. In my opinion, had the GOP not been so bat-shit crazy out of the gate, they might’ve gotten somewhere in this CR debate. Now they just look like arsonists, as Michael Tomasky correctly observed.
The problem with arsonists, as you might surmise, is that they love burning things down. Whether or not you think Ted Cruz is the second coming of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater – more the latter, I think – this much is certain. He has become a lightning rod for the GOP. He and not Boehner is running things in the House. And while he maybe despised by many of his Senate colleagues, he is worshiped by the Tea Party faithful. The wingnuts on the AM radio dial and Fox News are practically orgasmic in anticipation of his ascendency to greatness. If the fiscal shenanigans of 2011 turned out to be nothing more than a close shave, 2013 is shaping up to be a royal beheading.
This is their moment and they will not be denied. Like Captain Ahab, they are consumed by their hatred for Obama and his healthcare law. No tactics, no clue, no chance. Even a madman typically has a method to his madness. Not so with this motley crew. If anything, chaos appears to be their modus operandi. If they can’t get their way, they’ll torch the joint.
So, if I were Obama, I’d get out there and make sure I made my case to as many people as possible. Regardless of whether the shutdown is short or long, the ensuing food fight between both sides is bound to take some kind of toll.
Let’s say Boehner and Eric Cantor fold after a few days, or even at the eleventh hour, the Tea Party will undoubtedly regroup and take their next hostage: the debt ceiling. Think shutting down the government over a temper tantrum was bad? Try defaulting on the good faith and credit of the United States.
The laundry list the GOP has put together as a condition for raising the debt ceiling includes a one-year delay in Obamacare (if at first you don’t succeed), a repeal of Dodd-Frank, approval of the Keystone Pipeline, means testing for Medicare and a cure for the common cold. Okay, I put that last one in. Like the CR battle, Republicans aren’t even pretending to make this about fiscal policy. This is ideology, pure and simple.
That’s why the President and Democrats must not let up for even a minute. They cannot let any of the Republican shit splatter on them. Obama must do a much better job explaining his healthcare law and dispelling the myths than he has done up to this point. The fact that a majority of people still don’t know what’s in the law is inexcusable. That failure has allowed the GOP to virtually lie at will about it with no consequences.
Over in the Senate, Harry Reid needs to stay focused and keep his caucus in line. Expect Mitch McConnell – who is facing a tough primary challenge – to use every legislative trick in his arsenal as the debt limit approaches. The time for high-mindedness is over. This is war and both Obama and Reid must be at the top of their game. There’s more than just a healthcare law at stake. Expecting cooler heads to prevail on the other side of the aisle is naïve. If there were any cooler heads over there, we wouldn’t be in this jam to begin with.
As we near the debt limit, a lot of pressure will be brought to bear on House leadership by the usual powers that be to give up the ghost and cave. The problem with that scenario is that the House leadership isn’t driving the bus. In fact, it hasn’t been driving it for quite some time. I fear not even the threat of another credit downgrade will make any difference.
That’s the problem with kamikazes. They don’t care if they die, so long as they take their enemy with them.