“One man gathers what another man spills.”
The Grateful Dead
The government shutdown is generating a lot of comment in the press about how the Republicans are somehow responsible for this latest fiscal crisis. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times typifies the party line of the left:
“Let’s be clear. This is not government as usual. I’ve watched politicians for decades and have seen any number of backstabbings, scandals, vituperations, and Machiavellian machinations. But I can’t think of the last time a major political party undertook a serious campaign to damage the American economy, unless the other party gives in.”
There are several key tenants to the liberal narrative. First, Obamacare is not damaging to the US economy, this despite mounting evidence that it is already affecting millions of Americans. Indeed, the Times carries a front-page story today bemoaning the fact that Republican controlled states have not expanded Medicare coverage to more Americans. For Democrats, extending more and more public sector benefits to Americans is part of a long-term plan for political domination.
The second key argument of the left is that opposing the vast increase in government spending and regulation via Obamacare is an act of terrorism. Such is the arrogance of the left that any attempt to resist the glorious advance of French-style state socialism under Obama and the Democrats in Congress is seen as unreasonable. The left really expects conservatives in both parties to kneel down and surrender. In the New Speak of the left, opposition to their agenda is tantamount to treason. Compromise, in the language of the left, is really all about conservative capitulation.
Yet it is important for Republicans to reject these arguments. Conservatives have every right, indeed, responsibility, to say a loud “no” to the bullying fascism of Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). While Reid may believe he has no “viable” partners among Republicans, conservatives view Reid and the Democrats as reckless in their insistence on implementing Obamacare atop a weaking economy. Even though there is clear evidence that millions of Americans will actually lose access to private health care thanks to Obamacare, this matters not to Democrats, who would be happy to see every American become a ward of the state.
In one sense, at least, liberals like Kristoff are right. Politics in America is changing, but for the better. As the left discards the pretense that American liberalism is consistent with the principles of a democratic, free-market economy, they are overtly displaying the socialist tendencies which have always underpinned the welfare state. The end of the great pretense affords Republicans with an opportunity to highlight the growing divide between the left and right in American politics. In many red states, it needs to be said, a majority of voters see a government shutdown as a good thing and far preferable than implementing Obamacare as is.
The Big Media is horrified at the prospect of such an ugly display of democracy in action, preferring the efficient fascism of conservative capitulation. But the fact is that the founders of the United States did not want efficiency in our national governance. The whole concept of checks and balances is about conflict. We Americans are meant to debate and to vote, even if that means that no decision is reached immediately. The whole point of having two houses of Congress is that, at times, there may not be agreement on key national issues. By withholding legal authority for government operations, House Republicans are merely using one of the political paths that our Founders deliberately provided.
Kristoff bemoans the fact that he has never seen political conflict such as this. But the historical reality is that American politics is merely returning to normal. Prior to the two great World Wars, it was not uncommon for a third or more of the House and Senate to turn over at election time. The fact that American politics is heating up merely marks a long-overdue sharpening of the national debate between left and right about the nature of the American Republic.
By openly confronting President Obama and the Senate Democrats over Obamacare, the Republicans are helping to define some issues for the 2014 election and beyond. For too long, conservatives have gone along with the big government agenda of the left, now to the point of severely damaging our economic prospects. But the risk to the economy comes not from the government shutdown, but instead from the prospect that the steady growth of government in the US is gradually destroying the private sector and with it the ability of the US to provide livelihood and security for all of our people.
As George Orwell wrote famously: “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries, but between authoritarians and libertarians.” By opposing Obamacare and taking the US to the brink of financial crisis, conservatives are staking out the democratic, libertarian political high ground vs. the authoritarian and fascist views of the left. In the long run, that is a very good place to be if Republicans truly want to win the Senate and the White House. We’ll be talking more about this in my next column.