I hate to say this, but sometimes I think the Republicans in Congress are just plain dumb. At the very least, they do not learn from history—their own history. There have been 17 short-term government shutdowns during my lifetime and in most of these the Democrats came out smelling like roses while Republicans came out smelling like yesterday’s garbage. If you don’t believe me, ask Newt Gingrich. In 1994, he went from being the architect of a huge Republican victory in the House of Representatives and a viable future presidential candidate to a goat in his own party. How did he manage this precipitous downfall? He did it by letting Republicans get outmaneuvered by Democrats when he shut down the government.
In fact, the Democrats practically salivate over the possibility of a Republican led government shutdown. Doing so plays right into their hands, not to mention right into the hands of their supporter in the mainstream media. What Republicans cannot seem to grasp is that the Democrats have positioned themselves strategically as the caring party of the people and the Republicans as the uncaring party of principle. Although this is an outright lie, it is a fiendishly smart strategy. Why is it smart strategy? Because the number of people in the world willing to stand on principle over perceived personal interest is minutely small.
The message from Democrats is obvious: While those mean old Republicans would let you starve to uphold a principle, compassionate Democrats will never let some esoteric principle stand in the way of taking care of you. Democrats just love to sit down with a friendly television reporter and pontificate about the poor starving children and ailing old folks who are being denied the basic necessities by those evil Republicans who shut down the government. The fact that the claims of Democrats are not just false but absurd does not change things. Frankly, it matters not one whit that Democrats are lying through their teeth. All that matters in this debate is public perception and, thanks to the mainstream media, public perception will always favor the compassionate Democrats over the uncaring Republicans.
“But the Republicans are right,” you protest. “Spending must be cut and the budget brought into line or America will go broke.” Of course the Republicans are right, but in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of contemporary politics what does being right have to do with anything? Even those who vote Republican turn on the GOP when a government shutdown adversely affects their monthly income. Nothing speaks louder in American politics than the voter’s wallet. Republican voters are all for cutting the budget, as long as it does not affect them. But they can squeal just as loud as a welfare mother when the axe falls on them.
I say all of this to make a simple point: We will never turn the budget or our economy around by shutting down the government. Frankly, we have too many Americans—Democrats and Republicans—with their hands in the government till to make this a feasible strategy. The hard truth that Republicans must face is that there are only two ways to put the brakes on the tax-and-spend crowd in Washington, D.C. The first is to win the House, Senate, and Presidency. Republicans won’t do that by alienating a substantial portion of their own base by shutting down the government. The second is to sit back and let nature take its course. As long as Democrats are in charge, tax, borrow, and spend will be the prevailing modus operandi in Congress and the White House. The only way Democrats and those who depend on the federal government for their sustenance will ever come to understand the consequences of their short-sighted thinking is when our creditors such as Saudi Arabia and China say “No more.”
America is living on borrowed money and borrowed time. No nation can sustain so short-sighted an approach to its economic well-being. When the well dries up and our creditors finally call in their chits, Americans will finally understand what conservatives—as opposed to Republicans—have been trying to tell them for years. Until that time—which is probably not far off—or until Republicans learn how to play smart politics and take control of the House, Senate, and Presidency nothing is going to change. This is a fact that grandstand tactics like shutting down the government for a few days to make a philosophical point will not and cannot change.