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Topics: Obamacare

Meet 'Mr. Shutdown,' Heritage Action's Michael Needham

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Beltway Confidential,Congress,Mark Tapscott,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Senate,House of Representatives,Tea Party,Constitutionality,Government Shutdown,Conservatism,Liberalism,Heritage Action

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has been the public face of the movement to spare America the miseries of Obamacare by defunding it, but the guy behind the strategy is anything but a household name.

Meet Michael Needham, aka "Mr. Shutdown."

Why is there is a government shutdown?

"I think people who don't follow politics as closely as you and I do, which is most normal people, only pay attention when something major's going on. Why is there a government shutdown going on? Because the Republican Party wants to get rid of ObamaCare," Needham tells the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore in a lengthy, must-read profile today.

Needham - along with compatriot Tim Chapman - laid out plans for Heritage Action, the conservative think tank's controversial C4, four years ago.

Then-Heritage President Ed Feulner approved it. In the years since, Needham and Chapman have turned Heritage Action into, depending upon who is talking, either the conscience of the congressional Republican caucus, or the most disruptive element in American politics since the arrival of the Tea Party in 2009.

Actually, Heritage Action and the Tea Party sprang from the same well of grassroots frustration with Washington Republicans who talk the talk of limited government, but too often don't walk the walk when the chips are down on the Senate or House floors.

"We were always frustrated that whenever we met with Congress, there were always 30,000 lobbyists lined up in the waiting room on the other side," Needham tells Moore.

"We felt that to market our policy ideas successfully in 21st-century Washington, D.C., required going above the heads of members of Congress directly to their constituents who shared our conservative values," he said.

That attitude marks perhaps the major difference between the populism of Left and Right. The former view corporate and other special interests as obstacles to achieving the government-directed utopia sought by liberal activists.

By contrast, Needham and his Heritage Action compatriots - along with other conservative populist groups like the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund - view corporate and liberal special interests as obstacles to achieving common sense reforms most Americans support.

Needham's approach has sparked great angst in Establishment Republican quarters, a fact Moore puts in proper perspective with this assessment:

"[Ed] Feulner was famous for preaching that 'in the war of ideas there is no room for pacifists,' and Mr. Needham has taken those words to heart.

"To his admirers, he has pushed the Republicans to show backbone and stand up for principle. His detractors, many of them inside the party, denounce him as everything from cocky to a GOP wrecking ball."

A Stanford business school graduate, Needham is neither political yokel nor babe-in-the-Washington-woods. So Washington influentials (and those who think they are, including many of the journalists covering the White House, Congress and national campaign trail), would do well to understand him as he is, rather than viewing him through the comforting stereotypical lenses of conventional wisdom.

Moore's lengthy profile is an excellent place to start the process.

By the way, being a member of the Journal's editorial board, Moore disagrees with Needham's shutdown strategy, which makes his fair-minded and thorough piece all the more worth reading.

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