There's a growing movement of journalists and pundits who are rooting for the Republican-led impasse over government funding to result in a shutdown of government services. "I'm rooting for a shutdown and you should be too," writes Joshua Green in the Boston Globe. "Shut down the government!" cheers Todd Purdum in Politico. It's not that these writers are actually keen on causing economic disruption: they see it as the only recourse available to correcting the Republican political nihilism that keeps bringing us to the brink of crisis.
It's hard to begrudge them for what seems so cavalier a position -- we may have reached the point of political toxicity that drastic measures of this sort are the only remaining curatives. What is bothersome is the habit of conservative pundits who enable this political dynamic by recognizing the role people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are playing in it, but brushing that aside and praising Cruz for exploiting it to achieve mundane, short-term political goals.
After Cruz's 21-hour non-filibuster in support of defunding Obamacare, there was widespread agreement on the left and (much of) the right that Cruz had done little beyond raising his own profile and raising the likelihood that the government would have to shut down.
Writing in Politico, National Review's Rich Lowry marveled at Cruz's speech: "After talking the talk, Ted Cruz wins." Lowry knows that Cruz's policy goals are unattainable ("farfetched to the point of absurdity") and that his politics are causing chaos in Congress at a time when it really needs to get work done, but he views that as secondary to Cruz's accomplishment of riling up conservative base voters:
The Cruz eye-rollers had plenty of occasions to roll their eyes -- perhaps no senator has caused so many colleagues to mutter under their breaths in his first eight months in the world's greatest deliberative body -- but the conservative grass roots stood up and cheered. They are desperate for gumption and imagination and, above all, fight, and Cruz delivered all three during his long, bleary-eyed hours holding forth on C-SPAN2.
We're on the precipice of shutdown because the Republicans can't get their act together, and Cruz's tactics are causing further disarray, and Cruz gets a cookie for making a small slice of the American electorate feel good about themselves?
Similarly, in the Weekly Standard, political writer Stephen Hayes gives Cruz an "attaboy" -- twice -- for his "crucial" success of getting people to talk about Obamacare:
Ted Cruz has sparked a Republican civil war. He has done the bidding of the GOP fringe, in a self-aggrandizing crusade. And while he has enhanced his own position in the conservative fantasyland he seeks to rule, the practical effect of his quixotic campaign to defund Obamacare has been to elevate the president and jeopardize the 2014 elections for his own party.
That, at least, seems to be the consensus in Washington. We're inclined to a somewhat different view. We say two cheers for Ted Cruz--and for Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and their fellow crusaders. They succeeded in one crucial respect: Everyone is talking about Obamacare. And the more it gets talked about, the clearer its flaws are to an already skeptical public.
But Cruz and his allies have succeeded in one crucial respect: The debate is now focused on Obamacare and at precisely the moment when many Americans are beginning to understand just how flawed the law is. Despite the many missteps--sometimes by passive Republican leaders and sometimes by dogmatic defund enthusiasts--Republicans today are in a strong position to capitalize on what Cruz and his allies have done.
Hayes notes that the strategy of Cruz et. al. to tie Obamacare funding to funding of the government ran contrary to the wishes of the GOP leadership. They did it anyway and now shutting down the government seems all the more likely. But that doesn't really matter, according to Hayes, because Cruz succeeded in getting people to talk about a law they've already been talking about incessantly since it was passed three years ago.
This inflation of middling PR accomplishments and political ephemera (and the downplaying of immediate, real-world concerns) only serves to encourage this destructive behavior. And that's why one can't help but be skeptical that even something so painful as a government shutdown would succeed in altering the conservative political calculus. They'll always be someone inside the bubble cheering them on.