http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/16/a-teachable-moment/?_r=2&A Teachable Moment
October 16, 2013
One of the themes running through my various government shutdown posts has been the importance of seeing the current wave of right-wing populism clearly and weighing its merits and demerits judiciously. That requires understanding the strategic thinking that led to the shutdown in the first place … acknowledging the legitimate sense of political disappointment that underlies the right’s inclination toward intransigence … and most importantly, recognizing that relative to the G.O.P. establishment (such as it is), today’s right-wing populists often have better political instincts and better policy ideas.
But with tonight’s vote done and the government open once again, I want to return to the theme of my Sunday column, and stress once more the essential absurdity of the specific populist gambit we’ve just witnessed unfold, drag on, and now finally collapse. However you slice and dice the history, the strategery, and the underlying issues, the decision to live with a government shutdown for an extended period of time — inflicting modest-but-real harm on the economy, needlessly disrupting the lives and paychecks of many thousands of hardworking people, and further tarnishing the Republican Party’s already not-exactly-shiny image — in pursuit of obviously, obviously unattainable goals was not a normal political blunder by a normally-functioning political party. It was an irresponsible, dysfunctional and deeply pointless act, carried out by a party that on the evidence of the last few weeks shouldn’t be trusted with the management of a banana stand, let alone the House of Representatives.
This means that the still-ongoing intra-conservative debate over the shutdown’s wisdom is not, I’m sorry, the kind of case where reasonable people can differ on the merits and have good-faith arguments and ultimately agree to disagree. There was no argument for the shutdown itself that a person unblindered by political fantasies should be obliged to respect, no plausible alternative world in which it could have led to any outcome besides self-inflicted political damage followed by legislative defeat, and no epitaph that should be written for its instigators’ planning and execution except: “These guys deserved to lose.”
And it’s important for conservatives and Republicans to recognize this, and remember it, because what just happened can happen again, and next time the consequences may be more severe. The mentality that drove the shutdown — a toxic combination of tactical irrationality and the elevation of that irrationality into a True Conservative (TM) litmus test — may have less influence in next year’s Beltway negotiations than it did this time around, thanks to the way this has ended for the defunders after John Boehner gave them pretty much all the rope that they’d been asking for. But just turn on talk radio or browse RedState or look at Ted Cruz’s approval ratings with Tea Partiers and you’ll see how potent this mentality remains, how quickly it could resurface, and how easily Republican politics and American governance alike could be warped by it in the future.
So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the G.O.P. or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.