The Government Shutdown Was a Terrible and Disastrous Idea

So sayeth Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry. I align myself entirely with their comments, and the following is both bracing and completely accurate:

Prior to the government shutdown, the House Republican leadership offered a plan to force the Senate to hold a symbolic vote on defunding Obamacare before allowing it to move on to a so-called clean continuing resolution — one, that is, with no anti-Obamacare provisions. The plan was denounced by various conservative groups as a sell-out and caused a revolt in the caucus. A few weeks and a government shutdown later, all Republicans had to show for their trouble was . . . a symbolic vote on defunding and a clean CR. They were back where they had started, only with lower poll numbers and more poisonous divisions.

If someone had missed the intervening weeks, he would have had no idea of the drama and political pain that had ensued before the party accepted a version of the initial unacceptable compromise. From one point of view, the entire episode was all rather pointless; from another it was quite important. It was the latest and most consequential expression of an apocalyptic conservative politics.

It is a politics of perpetual intra-Republican denunciation. It focuses its fire on other conservatives as much as on liberals. It takes more satisfaction in a complete loss on supposed principle than in a partial victory, let alone in the mere avoidance of worse outcomes. It has only one tactic — raise the stakes, hope to lower the boom — and treats any prudential disagreement with that tactic as a betrayal. Adherents of this brand of conservative politics are investing considerable time, energy, and money in it, locking themselves in unending intra-party battle.

The tendency arises from legitimate frustrations. The federal government seems constantly to expand even as — and sometimes because — it proves itself incompetent. Republicans have done precious little to reverse or even halt the trend. Obamacare is a disastrous and unpopular law; but if the Republican party has a strategy for bringing about its eventual end, it has been kept well-hidden.

There is no reason whatsoever why conservatives can’t be pragmatists, and it is nice to see that Ponnuru and Lowry are trying to bring some pragmatism to the GOP and to the conservative movement in general. A healthy dose of pragmatism will make the GOP and the conservative movement–libertarians too!–tougher political opponents for President Obama and the Democrats. I can only hope that Ponnuru’s and Lowry’s warnings, admonitions and prescriptions fall on fertile ears; their piece is a tremendously smart take on the state of the GOP and the conservative movement. Again, it is worth contemplating just how advantageous the GOP’s political position would be right now–and just how terrible the Democrats’ and President Obama’s position would be–if only the GOP didn’t give Democrats a gift by shutting down the government and instead allowed the utterly disastrous Obamacare rollout to dominate the news for the past month.

Incidentally, I should note that I like both Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. I think that they will ultimately be very good legislators and very strong and effective champions for a right-of-center agenda. But they got outplayed in the shutdown fight. Once they resolve not to make the same mistakes twice, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

There are a lot more excerpts that I could provide readers, but instead of excerpting, I am going to urge everyone to just read the entire piece. It is outstanding, and it is necessary. In particular, I hope that Republicans in Congress read the piece; the lessons and advice that Ponnuru and Lowry pass on will help Republicans and conservatives win political fights in the future, instead of getting shellacked by Democrats and suffering in the court of public opinion.