It May Have Never Been About Defunding

Many conservatives who consider themselves the real Republicans have been grousing about those damn Tea Partiers; you know, the ones Ted Cruz was trying to appeal to when he filibustered against Obamacare? A calculated risk — because he and probably everyone else  knew defunding was never going to happen — that led almost directly (no offense to a friend of mine who keeps trying to separate the two things) to the nearly two-week shutdown that ended with celebratory high-fives as bureaucrats skipped their way back into work this week.

Just shut-up rabble rousers, they said in kinder terms, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn among them. Because you managed to make us all look bad and get us nothing in return except repeated lectures from the Reid-Pelosi-Obama trifecta.

I make no claims to be a Tea Partier but (with apologies), I don’t hold with Grover Norquist’s assertion that Cruz et al should apologize to their fellow conservatives:

“They hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people’s health care, they hurt the country’s economic situation and they hurt the Republican party,” he says. “And a lot of congressmen and senators are not going to win because we spent three months chasing our own tail — or at least, parts of the conservative movement spent three months chasing their own tail.”

I’m not actually sure that the effort to put a focus on Obamacare, which is ultimately what happened, was not a resounding success. Of course, that “truth” can only be examined in the coming days, weeks, and months; but it seems pretty clear that talking about Obamacare — specifically its problems and how they related to the very people that were supposed to sign up to sustain it — ensured that it appeared in the news cycle significantly more than it would have. What this means is that a crummy, government-run system wasn’t quietly rolled out and forgiven its sins as people waited patiently for their chance to be a part of the brilliance of socialized health insurance provision.

Instead, because the people had been warned, when they experienced problems with the system, it became a STORY. Now perhaps my pessimistic friend is right when he notes that people not being able to create accounts had nothing to do with the defund effort. That’s true of course. They couldn’t sign up with a broken system. But the difference is that calls to delay in a world where Obamacare hadn’t been the subject of so much drama on The Hill would have been screamed into the wind by a few lone — and frustrated — conservative voices.

But in this world, even lefty mouthpieces Wolf Blitzer, Alan Colmes, and Bob Beckel are asking for a delay. Because, now that they know what they face, people not only CAN’T sign up, they won’t WAIT AROUND TO. Which makes the system ultimately unsustainable and, unless they can figure out how to leverage some kind of new tax to pay for the thing, that’s bad news for Obamacare:

Instead, the focus can now shift to the disastrous impact of the ACA itself, which voters left in place with their choices in 2012. It’s not just the federal exchange, which will eventually get fixed.  Premiums have skyrocketed . Americans will now have to spend thousands of dollars more on health care whether they receive subsidies on the exchanges or not.  The sticker shock on the premium prices will crescendo over the next few weeks, and the out-of-pocket expense growth will continue all year until the midterm elections.

By that time, it won’t matter whether we had a partial government shutdown for a couple of weeks, or who won or lost this skirmish. What will matter is that the electorate will finally realize that the so-called Affordable Care Act turned out to be anything but affordable, and that nothing will change as long as Democrats remain in charge.  That will give Republicans a chance to incrementally improve their position and prepare for the possibility of a repeal in 2017 – if the coalition on the Right can keep from savaging itself over strategies and tactics in between.

In short, it may have never been about defunding the thing. I’d venture a guess that Cruz knew defunding was a no-go. So did Boehner, so did they all. But they shone a light on a broken system, bad policy, and some of those so-called real Republicans who are, oddly, the only ones Democrats seem able to negotiate with.

As for those dirty Tea Partiers, there’s something to be said for a group — agree with their populist tactics or not — that at least attempt to think existentially rather than bureaucratically. I for one am thankful for the effort.

But ObamaCare is the tipping point, the tea party believes. Unless the law is defunded, the land of limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility will be gone forever, and the new America, dominated by dependent minorities who assert their “rights” without accepting their responsibilities, will have no place for people like them.

For the tea party, ObamaCare is much more than a policy dispute; it is an existential struggle.

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