Politics

 

The Wacko Birds Will Fly Again

The Wacko Birds Will Fly Again

Political combat is a zero-sum game, so it’s tempting to say that—if Republicans lost—Democrats must have won. But that’s not as right as it sounds.

As President Obama noted in his address this morning, the public is frustrated with everyone in “this town.” Americans don’t blame Obama and congressional Democrats for the shutdown, but they hold them responsible for some of the dysfunction in Washington. It’s why, in the most recent Washington Post poll, only 42 percent of Americans approved of President Obama’s conduct, and only 33 percent said the same of congressional Democrats. And the same NBC News pollwith abysmal ratings for the Republican Party also had congressional Democrats with a 36 percent approval rating. The Democratic Party escaped the blast of the GOP’s self-destruction, but it wasn’t unharmed.

The only victor in this melee—if scuffed, dirty, and covered in broken glass—was the United States and its political institutions. After all, this wasn’t a fight over policy as much as it was a battle for the norms of American governance. Can a minority of the minority direct the conduct of the entire government? Can it threaten economic disaster to win concessions? 
 
The answer, for now, is no. Or, as President Obama said in his address this morning, if “You don’t like a particular policy or president, then go out there and win an election.” Legislative hostage taking has no place in our system.

With that said, it’s also true that we’re just three months from another budget deadline. Still, the painful experience of the last three weeks should be enough to keep right-wing Republicans from creating another manufactured crisis. Remember, before the stand-off, the National Review’s Jonathan Strong askedHouse Budget Chairman Paul Ryan if he thought President Obama was serious about his vow not to negotiate. Ryan scoffed, “Oh, nobody believes that. Nobody believes that…I think most people believe he’s just posturing for now.”

Now that this fiasco has ended with complete surrender to Obama and congressional Democrats, Ryan and his allies should feel chastened, and aware of one thing: When the stakes are high enough, Obama will not bend.

It’s worth noting that some conservatives are trying to claim this outcome as a victory. “We saw first of all, millions of millions of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in a press conference following last night’s vote, describing his new email list as a victory for conservatives. Likewise, Slate’s Dave Weigel scored this incredible quote from South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who thinks this was a success for the conservative movement: “We believe we did it for the right reasons. We believe it was good policy. We believe good policy makes good politics.”

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