Opinion: Columnists

Conservatives won't win by deluding themselves

By |
David Freddoso,Columnists,Barack Obama,2014 Elections,2016 Elections,Analysis,Government Shutdown,Conservatism

Sometimes, people just believe what they want to believe, even if it's wrong.

This aptly describes the conservative self-delusion over what happened in Congress last week when Republicans finally backed away from the strategy of shutting down the government to stop the Obamacare law.

To be sure, there are some who argue that a fight of some kind was needed, even if it was hopeless. This is at least an argument based on true premises.

The more common assessment, represented by some conservative writers, is far less compelling.

Steve Deace, an influential Iowa conservative radio host (who has been kind enough to spare time for an interview in the past), told me over Twitter after the vote that even if Obamacare passed in 2010, Republicans “funded it in 2013.”

NRO's Andrew McCarthy wrote over the weekend: “[A]s a matter of law,” Obamacare could not proceed unless both congressional chambers agreed to fund it.”

Both writers' assertions are untrue.

Congress did not fund Obamacare last week, nor did it have to. This isn't a question of opinion or interpretation, but of fact. But if you really want to believe the narrative that is ripping the conservative movement apart right now, it's necessary to assume this falsehood is true.

Republicans in Congress, the fiction goes, could have stopped Obamacare in its tracks had they only been more determined and held out longer.

It's pure bunk. Let's be clear: Congress funded Obamacare in 2010, and not a single Republican voted to fund it. From that point on, Obamacare remains funded unless and until Congress passes and a president signs a bill that removes the funding.

The most you can say of last week's defeat is that Congress (or the Senate, at least) failed to pass a law removing existing funding from Obamacare.

There was never such a thing as “funding the rest of government without funding Obamacare.” The defunding of Obamacare required a positive act. A mere omission was never sufficient.

This may seem like a minor detail, but the failure to grasp (or accept) this reality has been the central fallacy and rallying point of the “defund” movement all along.

In the real world, the Obamacare exchanges went live October 1, oblivious to the shutdown, because Obamacare never needed Congress to act again this year.

When two thought-leaders in the conservative media with large audiences buy into such a falsehood, it's a sign of how widely it has been disseminated and how deeply it is believed.

If they were correct, then things would be different. The government shutdown might have had a real purpose. The plan might have even worked. Obama would have been forced to bargain to get his signature legislative accomplishment going.

But it was never so. What actually happened is that the loudest conservative voices in Washington fooled themselves (assuming the best) and a large segment of the base into thinking their water-pistol was the real thing.

The result of this debacle is a conservative movement torn down the middle, each side paranoid about the other's intentions.

The only question now is to what degree the “defund” venture damaged conservatism (not the GOP, but conservatism) among the voting population.

Perhaps not much. If the early Obamacare disaster (which this saga has so far distracted from) continues to play out, the whole shutdown episode may be a distant memory in two weeks' time.

But for the moment, a pointless, superficial parliamentary exercise has destroyed the conservative base's enthusiasm and unity on the one issue where every single moderate and conservative Republican officeholder – from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz – had been united in substantive terms.

This is not how a movement grows or achieves its goals, and the least conservatives can do is stop seeing enemies where none exist.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
View article comments Leave a comment