The Republicans’ Core Obamacare Message Is Lost In The Shutdown Noise (Forbes.com) October 3, 2013Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
I take no joy in saying this: conservative leaders in the House and Senate have let down their movement by abandoning conservative means in order to pursue conservative ends. Because their actions—shutting down the government—speak so loudly, people cannot hear their core message about Obamacare. And their movement is harmed in both the short and long term because they show conservatives to be yet one more political group that cares more about winning than how they go about it, or what the consequences of their methods may be.
One of the founders of modern American conservatism, Russell Kirk, said that conservatives are about convention and continuity, guided by prudence. As Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz reminds us in his recent book Constitutional Conservatism, moderation has long been a hallmark of political conservatism. Conservatives believe in constitutional process, with its checks and balances and balances of political power. They follow the rules until they can properly change them.
So what’s wrong with the picture Senator Ted Cruz and his conservative allies are painting today? They are not following any kind of conservative playbook in their headlong desire to limit or defund Obamacare. After every constitutional process was exhausted, they had lost when the bill was passed, lost when it was appealed to the Supreme Court, lost when they made the 2012 election a referendum about it, and they’ve lost over 40 times when the House has passed bills to repeal Obamacare only to see them die in the Senate.
So what a true conservative would not do is twist the constitutional process by refusing to fund the operation of the entire federal government because of a disagreement over one piece of the budget that has already had its day in court and everywhere else. There are legitimate places to continue a battle over Obamacare: in the states where markets must be established, in federal court where terms of the bill (such as funding for abortion or birth control) are still being properly challenged, but refusing to fund the federal government in order to get yet one more challenge in Congress represents a commitment to winning at all costs, not a faithful adherence to proper conservative and constitutional processes.
Conservatives ran into means and ends problems only a decade ago, but apparently did not learn their lesson. In the early 2000’s, when Republicans held the White House and majorities in both houses in Washington, they began to pursue a big-government conservatism which can only be considered an oxymoron. They decided that, rather than trimming government, they would use government to achieve conservative ends. As Indiana Governor, then Congressman, Mike Pence put it at the time, “The conservative movement today is…strong, accomplished but veering off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government republicanism.” They violated principles of economic and limited government conservatism by running up large federal deficits, and they ignored conservative principles of federalism by allowing a virtual takeover of K-12 education policy by Washington, D.C. If that is conservatism, we might as well all be big-government liberals.
Opinion polls show the American people have a negative view of most of the players involved in this mess, but they reserve special disapproval for the Republicans who are perceived as having led the government shutdown. Common sense folks don’t get it and they don’t like it. One of my law professors used to say that if a rule or practice didn’t pass the “layman huh?” test, it was problematic, meaning if a layman looks at it and says “huh?” the matter needed to be reviewed. Shutting down the government over a crusade to defund Obamacare does not pass that test, and people are both confused and frustrated about it.
President George H.W. Bush once said, “I’m conservative, but I’m not a nut about it.” Unfortunately, their present leaders in Washington are making conservatives look more like nuts than true conservatives.