Ted Cruz and his allies get it. They get that Americans can’t afford to have Obamacare implemented against our groaning, near-collapse finances. They get that we are disgusted (and alarmed) at the idea of being the GOP’s economic attrition strategy for the 2014 election: the strategy that says, “Let things get as bad as they’re going to with Obamacare, and then people will finally blame the Democrats.” The problem with that strategy is that someone has to pay the price for it – has to accept the financial losses, which for many people could be disastrous, even permanently life-changing – and that someone is us.
Cruz – and Mike Lee in the Senate, along with Matt Salmon (AZ) and others in the House – show that they get what the stakes are, by being willing to take a big risk on a deliberate strategy. They’re making an attempt they could actually be defeated in: to galvanize the rest of the GOP and get it to take a risk.
Contrast that with the bet-hedging and consultation-begging we see from the GOP leadership. Here’s where my confession of populism comes in: I don’t recall ever having such a sense of revulsion against the air of protecting privileged insularity that hangs over Beltway insiders, both politicians and pundits. As we understand it, GOP leaders sent unsolicited “opposition research” to Fox News on Sunday, in order to undermine Cruz in his appearance with Chris Wallace. Karl Rove excoriated Cruz on the Sunday show for failing to properly “consult” with his colleagues. Tucker Carlson, Charles Krauthammer, and even Brit Hume took up the cry on Monday’s Special Report, accusing Cruz of grandstanding, and personalizing their criticisms of him to a startlingly petty degree.
Meanwhile, as the GOP impugns Ted Cruz’s motives with slam-book-quality allegations, it quietly accepts Obamacare exemptions and special subsidies for Congress. The whole scenario seems like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington come to life. All that’s missing is misleading photos of Cruz making bird calls.
But the truth is, this isn’t Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – because the plot of Mr. Smith turned on a relatively small matter, one that might have had symbolism for the operation of the whole government, but that in a literal sense affected only a small number of citizens. The implementation of Obamacare is the biggest issue America has dealt with since how to get rid of the atrocious institution of slavery, and what “union” and “states’ rights” mean. It profoundly affects everyone who will ever be an American from this day forward. Issues don’t come any bigger. Obamacare is about government’s relation to the citizen; about what government can dictate and control in our lives; and about what our economic liberties will mean, not in a decade, not a year from now, but tomorrow — and for the rest of our life as a nation.
From where I sit, it looks like Ted Cruz gets that. He gets that we can’t just sit still, paralyzed by bad press and Democratic talking points, and let these questions be decided through the back door by the implementation of brain-deadening regulations. He gets that that’s what’s happening. He recognizes that a time comes when risk must be taken: when it just isn’t good enough for the well-worn remedies of consultation and deferral to produce the same unsatisfactory outcomes that they always do. This time, the cost of taking that risk-averse route is too high.
Cruz did what he had to do on Fox on Sunday, remaining on message with admirable rhetorical discipline. What he said was an accurate and succinct representation of the alternative he and his allies are offering: fund the government without Obamacare in fiscal year 2014, as the alternative to funding it with Obamacare. Delay implementation of the individual mandate, if that’s the best deal we can get, but go for the most we can get while still funding the government. Don’t shut it down. I found him to be effective in getting his point across.
But the old-school GOP leaders won’t get onboard with that message, apparently preferring to emphasize that they haven’t been consulted with. They might as well just concede the terms of the fight to the Democrats and have done with it.
There are an awful lot of Americans out here who don’t know when the next shoe is going to drop, as the predator in the dark stalks their jobs, insurance, and finances. Despising these people and their worries about Obamacare and the trend of big government – in the manner of Harry Reid – is as much bad karma as it is bad politics. Yet senior Republicans seem to join Reid in being annoyed with the people for not wanting to play the role of the sacrifice in an electoral-politics ritual.
Instead of deferring an Obamacare fight to a future point we can’t guarantee we’ll even reach – i.e., after a Senate victory in 2014 – Cruz and his allies propose to fight today, on ground we can at least define clearly and prepare for in the present. Are they right? There are arguments pro and con. But I don’t hear GOP leaders making any of those arguments in a forthright or convincing manner – or in any other way, for that matter.
One thing we can guarantee: we, Republican leaders and voters, won’t come to a unified position on that by refusing to address the question on the terms proposed by Cruz and his allies. Cruz is trying to force the issue, which accords it the weight and immediacy that I give it. He’s carrying my water. If GOP leaders want to lead, they need to get out in front of this issue. Go in strong with Cruz to make the strategy theirs – give the people something to applaud or reject – instead of merely sniping from the shadows.