In early July 1863, two armies converged around the little town of Gettysburg, Pa. Neither army foresaw a major battle on that ground, let alone the turning point of the entire Civil War.
The Confederates were simply searching for a supply of shoes rumored to be in the town. When they stumbled across some Union cavalry, both sides called in reinforcements, and then more, and before long, a full-scale battle stood up.
(Hat-tip to the Washington Examiner's Byron York, quoting an unnamed Republican congressman, who suggested this comparison.)
At no point on that first day in Gettysburg could either side have explained what the “end game” of their early skirmishes would bring.
They simply took the opportunities that developed and fought their opponents with everything they had.
In early June of this year, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who is a serious student of the Constitution, concluded that President Obama was violating the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers and his oath of office by unilaterally announcing waivers of certain parts of the Affordable Care Act that he found inconvenient.
Lee decided that if the president wouldn’t follow his own law, Congress should refuse to fund it — a perfectly constitutional exercise of its power of the purse.
He called in reinforcements, including his friend, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Together, they blew a war trumpet on a website called Dontfundit.com and launched an apparently quixotic campaign to defund Obamacare.
They seemed naïve because neither Cruz nor Lee could offer a tactical “end game” for prevailing in the overall budget negotiations.
Instead, they argued that defunding the new law was so essential to preserve both fairness and freedom that the battle to defund it must be engaged.
Simply allowing Obamacare to “collapse on its own,” as some of their colleagues advocated, would give the toxic new law ample time to pull down the entire private health insurance industry along with it.
The senators’ defunding campaign resonated with conservative Republicans in the House – many of whom were elected in 2010 after promising to do everything they could to repeal Obamacare.
So for four and a half months, the House and Senate Don’t Fund It Coalition waged a high-profile campaign that educated millions of people on the need to repeal Obamacare.
As a result of that battle, and against early odds, the House Republicans pulled together a majority to pass a continuing resolution that funded the entire federal government — but defunded Obamacare.
The media and establishment Republicans love to harp on the fact that Cruz and Lee never had a way to prevail at the tactical level in the current budget battle.
Some now list them as “losers” for that. But that verdict is premature. It ignores the enormous progress the Don’t Fund It Campaign has achieved in the underlying war against Obamacare itself.
And it ignores the senators’ own acknowledgement from the outset that their goal could only be achieved if a tsunami of public insistence developed demanding defunding.
Cruz specifically said, “we can’t do this by ourselves” in the Senate and House.
Before the Cruz-Lee initiative, lots of Republican and Democrat candidates were saying that as faulty as Obamacare might be, it is the law and there was no way to repeal it.
They pretended their only option was to try to repair it. But Cruz and Lee have kept the cement of the Affordable Care Act from drying on Oct. 1.
The disastrous introduction of the Obamacare exchanges is revealing much more than mere system glitches. The public is beginning to grasp the magnitude of the lies that were told to swindle Congress into passing it.
Both voters and candidates may soon see enough building opposition to Obamacare to postpone parts of it, defund other parts, and eventually repeal it all.
Next year, both Republican and Democrat candidates for House and Senate will be forced to take new positions on defunding or delaying this massive program whose roll-out is exposing its dysfunction as well as its unpopularity.
The end of the shutdown is not the end of this battle. As more American voters come to understand how many are hurt by Obamacare and how few are helped by it, more reinforcements will come to the battlefield.
The end game will then be in sight, and senators Cruz and Lee (the irony of his name is not lost) may win the war that so many now declare they have lost.Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring. Ken Hagerty is a public policy strategist in Washington, D.C.