Friday, October 18, 2013

The GOP Shutdown: One of the Worst Blunders in Political History

The radical Tea Party faction of the Republican Party last year hatched an ill-fated plan to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which it has derisively coined Obamacare. In the end, what it couldn't achieve legislatively, judicially and electorally it tried desperately to achieve through extortion: holding America and the world economy hostage by threatening and then forcing a government shutdown and bringing the country to brink of default on its debt.

This utterly misguided war was recklessly commandeered by de-facto Speaker of of the House Sen. Ted Cruz who, while uber-marginalizing the Speaker-in-name-only John Boehner, manically poured ideological fuel on the flames of the House crazies' obsession and delusion. But the demands fell on deaf ears. President Obama refused to negotiate on his signature health care reform and held firm like a rock.

When attempts to defund ACA failed, these rabid right-wingers sought a 12-month delay. Then a repeal of the Medical Device Tax. Then a ludicrous attempt to force the First Family and congressmen to buy insurance from the ACA exchanges. When all that failed the big capitulation came, as Obama stood tall while Cruz, Boehner, Eric Cantor and the rest of The Obstructionists slinked back into their holes carrying nothing but their broken spirits. The Senate unanimously (82-18) voted to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling, a bill which the neutered Boehner finally put to a House vote, handing an historically humiliating defeat to the GOP.

As Sen. John McCain lamented: "Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable."

Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked when he first knew this cockamamie scheme would fail. "We had extensive discussions in July about how the defund strategy couldn't possibly succeed." Admitting the toll this debacle has taken on his party, he frustratingly vowed that there'd be no more government shutdowns. "One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is there's no education in the second kick of a mule." 

What's astonishing is that what was so abundantly clear to GOP Senators was completely lost on their over-energized, under-strategized House counterparts. Logic, reason and maturity came from just one chamber. If Congress were a restaurant, House Republicans would be sitting at the kids' table.             

In the end, this embarrassingly botched strategy will surely go down as one of the most colossal miscalculations ever by a political party. Republicans were so rapacious and fanatical in their quest to kill or delay ACA that they actually missed one of the best opportunities to kill or delay ACA. Given all the technical glitches with the website, which has resulted in an embarrassingly plagued roll-out of the program, all the Tea Party loons needed to do was let the program define itself. But they acted like a bunch of spoiled rich kids who couldn't get their way and made the shutdown the only thing anyone talked about. They could've instead been sitting at their mahogany desks these past three weeks basking in ACA's botched launch. "See? We told you Obamacare's a failure!"

To be sure, there was a huge opportunity cost to Operation Shutdown. The GOP now has the lowest approval ratings in its history as it heads into the critical 2014 mid-term election cycle. Cruz took the party down a no-win path. He lacked vision and an end-goal. The Republican brand is now more tarnished, the party more fractured, than ever and he is squarely to blame. The Tea Party's irrational, irresponsible, reprehensible self-serving quest has been an affront to every American. It was an unnecessary waste of time and taxpayer money, and a shameful abuse of our legislative system, a snub at the Supreme Court and a disgraceful disrespect of the U.S. presidency.

Once again, in what has become a predictable inability to help itself, the Republican Party drove off a cliff, demonstrating an astonishing disconnect not just from the needs of average Americans, but from reality. Politico reports that Obama on October 2 asked Boehner why he shut down the government. "I got overrun," he said. If the future-ex-Speaker feels this way now, just wait till after next year's election.

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