Friday, October 11, 2013

Why the Republicans Blinked

The Republicans, especially those in the House of Representatives, are rapidly giving ground in their fiscal battle with the Democrats.  A resolution is pretty likely within a week or less.  It will probably provide a short term delay of the debt ceiling and re-open the government, while the parties negotiate over long term fiscal issues.

Why did the Republicans blink?  Because they tried to manufacture a crisis out of a non-problem and a long term problem.  The non-problem is Obamacare.  The truth is that Obamacare offers valuable benefits to millions of people.  The huge traffic jams on health exchange websites demonstrate that lots of people understand Obamacare's value and want to participate in the program.  The Republican attempt to de-fund Obamacare would take away something millions of people want, and that's usually a very poor political strategy.  The Republicans seem to have belatedly figured this out, but not before forming a circle and firing volleys inward.

The long term problem is the federal deficit.  It is a serious problem.  But it's not an immediate problem.  The Republican effort to create a crisis at this moment over something that will play out years and decades from now is too obvious a political ploy.  The minority party wants to call the shots by gratuitously inflicting damage on the economy with a government shutdown and coercing an unnecessary default on the most important financial instruments in the world, U.S. Treasury securities.  Political parties thrive by winning over a majority of voters, not by wrecking economies and financial systems.  The fiscal deficit is not an immediate crisis.  It needs to be addressed, and will be, over the next years and decades as it becomes more pressing.  But the Republican tactic--give us everything we demand or we will destroy your government and wreck your finances--is bound to, and in fact did, alienate a majority of the electorate. 

After Barack Obama's re-election last year, the Republicans launched a process of reflection and reconsideration.  It's unclear that they made much progress, and the fiscal brawl of the past few weeks has surely left the party more damaged than before.  The Tea Partiers have prevented the Republicans from doing the thing that's necessary to political domination--shifting toward the middle.  Since political power abhors a vacuum, the Democrats have easily moved into the breach. 

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