The Benefits of Intransigence

10/7/13
 
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from New York Times,
10/4/13:

IF the government shutdown has shown us anything, it’s that the 80 or so House Republicans driving the crisis have emerged as the most unified force in politics: tightly organized, highly disciplined and ideologically firm.

But wasn’t their plan to make the budget a vehicle for defunding President Obama’s health care legislation doomed from the start? And even if this small band has the backing of voters in their safely drawn “red” districts, as well as Tea Party support, haven’t their unyielding tactics antagonized a majority of the public?

In fact, this minority faction — the “suicide caucus,” as the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has called it — may be less shortsighted and self-defeating than it appears. At a time when so many officials in both parties still invoke the virtues of compromise and perpetuate the ideal of common ground on which “conservative pragmatists” can meet “moderate Democrats,” these more combative Republicans may be in the vanguard of a new post-consensus politics.

Consider the warnings of many, including some in the conservative establishment, that the shutdown will rebound against the party. As evidence they cite the shutdown of 1995. The winner then was President Bill Clinton, who deftly used the episode to right his wobbly presidency and then coasted to a second term in 1996.

But Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who helped set the stage for the conflict, has offered a different interpretation. Those prophesying ruin “need to go back and read their history books a little more closely” regarding 1995, he said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show in July. “In the next election, 1996, Republicans held on to the majority in the House, the first time Republicans had done that since 1930, in 66 years,” Mr. Cruz pointed out. “We lost a total of nine seats in the House. In the Senate, we gained two seats.”

Mr. Cruz, in other words, was calculating the odds of success in terms of the Congressional, rather than presidential, outcome.

Changing demographics would seem to weaken the appeal of anti-government figures like Mr. Cruz (who was born in Canada and is of Cuban ancestry). That is why traditional conservatives like the columnist Michael Gerson insist that “pragmatic Republicans” are the party’s salvation, and that Mr. Cruz and his allies are mounting a “revolt against reality.”

But as America becomes more diverse, another population has come more clearly into view: the alienated and disenchanted. These people have embraced a libertarian and anti-government outlook and have little use for what they see as the compromised, impure “big government” conservatism of the Reagan and Bush years.

To this constituency, the Republican who will go as far as he can — taking one last crack at undoing Mr. Obama’s health care reform or voting later this month not to raise the debt ceiling — is not an obstructionist but a politician of principle, a rebel with a cause.

“The business of the opposition is to oppose,” as Robert A. Taft, the Republican senator who led the attempt to slow down New Deal programs, once said.

Recent victories that Republicans have won, for instance on gun control, have come not through compromise but by out-organizing and outspending their opponents. The hallowed idea of consensus, and the dream of building a majority, has given way to a survival strategy.

The most striking example of Republican opposition is the revival of the doctrine of states’ rights, historically associated with slavery and Jim Crow. There are unmistakable overtones of this past in the anti-Obamacare movement in some of the 26 states, especially in the Deep South, that have rejected the Medicaid expansion.

The states’ rights doctrine was center stage at the Liberty Political Action Conference, held in Chantilly, Va., in September and sponsored by the Campaign for Liberty, a group created in 2008 by Ron Paul, in some respects the godfather of post-consensus politics.

Speakers and attendees praised the 10th Amendment, as one would expect. Several also criticized the 17th, which allowed for the direct popular election of senators, who had previously been chosen by state legislatures.

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