The Status Quo Strikes Back


How do you know you’re scaring your opponents? When they start tag-teaming against you.

Two recent, and prominent, examples of this are pieces by Jonathan Chait and Norm Ornstein about Tea Party-minded conservatives. From Chait:

The Republican Party has spent 30 years careering ever more deeply into ideological extremism, but one of the novel developments of the Obama years is its embrace of procedural extremism. The Republican fringe has evolved from being politically shrewd proponents of radical policy changes to a gang of saboteurs who would rather stop government from functioning at all. In this sense, their historical precedents are not so much the Gingrich revolutionaries, or even their tea-party selves of a few years ago; the movement is more like the radical left of the sixties, had it occupied a position of power in Congress. And so the terms we traditionally use to scold bad Congresses—partisanship, obstruction, gridlock—don’t come close to describing this situation. The hard right’s extremism has bent back upon itself, leaving an inscrutable void of paranoia and formless rage and twisting the Republican Party into a band of anarchists.

And the worst is not behind us.

That’s vitriolic language. Since when does holding to principle on fiscal responsibility qualify as “paranoia and formless rage?”

Ornstein’s language is more polite, but similar in substance:

When Mike Lee pledges to try to shut down the government unless President Obama knuckles under and defunds Obamacare entirely, it is not news—it is par for the course for the take-no-prisoners extremist senator from Utah. When the Senate Republicans’ No. 2 and No. 3 leaders, John Cornyn and John Thune, sign on to the blackmail plan, it is news—of the most depressing variety.

Both of these pieces are worth reading, if only to find out what the liberal Beltway establishment thinks of Tea Party activists. A few points:

First, fiscal conservatives are finally taking a stand against both parties. For too long – under President George Bush, most recently – both parties went along to get along. For example, as Ornstein notes about the costly Medicare Drug Bill, Democrats could have done to Bush what fiscal conservatives are doing to President Obama on Obamacare. According to Ornstein, the law was passed in 2003 through unethical and controversial means. Instead, Democrats worked with Bush to smooth out certain aspects, make it more to their liking in little ways, “and it has been a smashing success.”

This argument is laughable. The 2003 Drug Bill will have cost the American people hundreds of billions of dollars by 2014, not exactly “a smashing success.” Second, Obamacare is far more expansive; it incorporates massive tax increases, violations of conscience, mandates that should be unconstitutional, and regulations that will cost the nation precious jobs.

Second, repealing and/or defunding Obamacare will be of great benefit to the country. Yes, Republican leadership has failed to offer real, market-oriented plans of their own, which is to their shame. But Ornstein’s comparison to Democratic opposition to the surge in Iraq is ridiculous, not the least of which is rooting for the surge to fail would cost America lives – and opposing Obamacare will save lives:

I remember being shocked when some congressional Democrats appeared to be rooting for the surge in troops in Iraq to fail—which would mean more casualties among Americans and Iraqis, but a huge embarrassment for Bush, and vindication of their skepticism. But of course they did not try to sabotage the surge by disrupting funding or interfering in the negotiations in Iraq with competing Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish power centers. To do so would have been close to treasonous.

What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous—just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.

Third, Ornstein claims opponents of an existing law have three basic options: work to make the law better, they can work to repeal it, or they can step aside and let proponents set it up. However, Ornstein’s next paragraph exposes his real goal – to convince people to support Obamacare itself:

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation—which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil—is simply unacceptable, even contemptible.

For one so stuck on his own wisdom, Ornstein seems to forget Obamacare leaves millions of Americans uninsured. He ignores how most will see premiums go up, not down. He also ignores how repealing or defunding Obamacare is for the benefit of the nation. Furthermore, as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) noted yesterday, the American people oppose the law, the President admits it’s unworkable in its current form, it has some level of bipartisan opposition in D.C., and the heavy involvement of the IRS in overseeing the law is concerning given the IRS intimidation scandal and its targeted impact on opponents of the law.

What Ornstein and Chait are de facto proposing is for the GOP to keep going along to get along, will of the people be dammed.

Is there room for compromise at times in Washington? Perhaps, but principles should guide legislative efforts, not the other way around. The fact these gents are so angry at Tea Party activists shows how successful we’ve been in gumming up the works of “business as usual” in the Beltway.