The longer I worked in politics the more I gravitated towards fundraising. Identifying votes started to feel a little like counting grains of sand in the wind. Allegiances shift, sometimes based on the flimsiest of news stories. Supporters leave for vacation, forgetting to fill out an absentee ballot after four months of volunteering at the office. A gaffe can upend an entire campaign. Outside events occur on their own schedule without any deference to the hundreds of thousands of mail pieces just ordered. Everyone cared about education last week, at least until a local rape and killing changed the dialogue overnight.
But a check cashed — now that’s at least money in the bank.
All of this I say to prove that I know from personal experience the cliché is true: a week is a lifetime in politics. So it’s a bit dangerous to comment on the government shutdown when so much can change by the end of next week. Also I am hesitant to be boastful because a Bible proverb teaches us that pride goeth before destruction. (There’s also a Gaelic proverb “A dimple on the chin, the devil within” but we’ll save that for another blog entry.)
Now, with all of those disclaimers out of the way . . . and without any pride in this statement (ok, perhaps a little pride) . . . Wow, the Republicans are really fucking up this shutdown. Two broader observations:
1. The Republicans’ disdain and underestimation of President Obama causes them to fall into his traps again and again. Sun Tzu said “one mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or fights not at all.”
In June of 2012 I watched the scuffle unfold when the administration insisted that Catholic hospitals would be required to buy insurance for employees that included coverage for contraception. Republicans and Romney, as if on cue, began speaking of an attack on religious freedom and, voila, the national conversation now included contraception and abortion in addition to the economy. Gallup reports that eighty two percent (82%) of Catholics support birth control (and Catholics are disproportionately represented in Midwestern swing states). It was much better for Obama to have a fight about it than about the economy. By the end of the summer, the GOP carnage would include the Senate campaign of Todd Aiken (you know, the guy famous for saying “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down”) and the Senate campaign of Richard Mourdock (you know, the guy famous for saying “…when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”)
Whatever happened to talking about the economy?
Fast forward to today where the Affordable Care Act has been met mostly with a lot of skepticism and soft public support (from supporters!). It’s absolutely mystifying to me why anyone in the GOP would think threatening Obama with a shutdown would be taken as a threat?
So let’s see, if the government is shutdown we will talk about The Government Shutdown. Otherwise, we will have to talk about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act or, God forbid, that Syria stuff. And let’s be honest, that Syria stuff wasn’t going so well. It thankfully rests for the time being without any serious damage to HRC 2016.
2. As California goes, so goes the nation, or at least that’s the saying. Watching the GOP lurch into its missteps is a little like watching a delayed replay of the California GOP.
In 1994, the Republican Governor of California, Pete Wilson, led the effort to pass Proposition 187, which prohibited “illegal aliens” from receiving public services. Most commentators believe that much of the overwhelming support that the California Democratic Party receives from Latinos can be traced to that hateful proposition. And yet, in 2010 the Arizona GOP passed SB 1070 which empowered police to investigate anyone they suspected of being an illegal immigrant. Nationally, this year the House GOP has stymied efforts for comprehensive immigration reform.
How is this possible when the GOP said, in its post mortem report on the 2012 election, that “The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become.” Which the GOP has done, if by “recognizing” you mean writing a report and then continuing to operate as if the report had never been written.
Likewise, the current shutdown and other congressional scuffles with Obama have echoes of numerous battles in Sacramento in the last decade. Since tax increases in California required a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses, Republicans could continuously block all such efforts even as their number of seats dwindled . . . until finally after so many years of blocking they only knew how to block and not how to build.
I would not suggest that Republicans nationally find themselves in the current dire straits of the California Republican Party; I would suggest, however, that they can look here and see that an Intransigence Strategy will not lead to broad based electoral success. I’m not the first to recognize some of these themes. See here.
So why’s The Government Shutdown happening? Well there’s the other maxim. All politics is local and, for many House Republicans, going to battle against a
black Democratic President makes for great politics in their home district. It’s a Pickett’s Charge so they can go home and report how hard they fought.
If it remains true that all trends do start in California, then what should be most frightening for Republicans is not that California’s recent past foreshadows a continuing defeat . . . it’s that there’s little in our current affairs that suggests a future victory.
Los Angeles, California