The government shutdown certainly has ins and outs that require a Beltway dictionary and it is not nearly as simple as any pundit may claim. The problem runs deeper than the GOP. Despite the overwhelmingly boring and cohesive national discussion blaming polarization and grandstanding, among other things, as the main problems, new data shows that the real problem is the insurgent far Right’s Randian world-view permeating through the Koch brothers, Jim DeMint, or other less expensive mouthpieces to Republican Congressmen.
John Boehner? Poor guy: he either does the right thing and loses the speakership, or he does the wrong thing and keeps it, or some third option I can’t see from WestCo 1. Paul Ryan? Who? He’s been nowhere to be found publicly during this crisis. Rand Paul? He, too, disappeared until stopping by Meet the Press last Sunday, where he repeated the party line about President Obama, “He just won’t sit down and negotiate.” That’s right; Paul is doing his iconic pacing and ruminating without wanting to dismantle his signature achievement.
And finally, there’s Ted Cruz. No question about it, the freshman senator from Texas wants to shake things up. Besides a run in 2016, Senator Cruz is banking on public distrust and future disapproval of the Affordable Care Act. The Sun Belt’s mistrust of the first black president’s free-market approach to universal health care has been well documented. In fact, it’s what led to this mess in the first place, when the Democrats lost the house in the 2010 midterms.
What appears at first to be a Texan impervious to reason, Cruz’s persona does not comprise economics and facts. I have no idea what the man is really like, but his strategy is not as stupid as people think; Cruz is smarter than most liberals are willing to say he is. He was once the high school debate champion of Texas, Lincoln-Douglas no less. He has Ivy League undergrad and graduate degrees. He is a master of rhetoric. Given his pull in this crisis, he probably has some impressive connections with the deepest pockets in the history of politics—all as a freshman senator.
So why is he doing this? He knows the common-sense approach that many Conservative Americans have to politics. If the government blows up, all the better. Those moochers and power players could use a few weeks off of the teat and maybe turn themselves around—whatever that means.
As national parks stay closed and furloughed employees fester, an eternal image of Paul Ryan reading “Atlas Shrugged” figuratively looms over our polis. T-bills are selling faster than hotcakes after new polling data reveal that over two-thirds of Republicans believe that going over the debt limit will not have severe consequences. Earlier data from Gallup show that the GOP is at its lowest approval rating since the poll on party favorability was created by Gallup in 1992.
This dichotomy poses a challenge for Conservatives who have long benefited from various manifestations of the Southern Strategy that make the Right’s portrayal of President Obama textbook. It’s too easy to rally up gut-feeling Conservatives. As much as the Joe Scarboroughs and David Brooks of the world pull their hair out at stuff like this, the teeming masses eat it up. They love to see someone stick it to that Socialist, Kenyan Obama. “We can’t make extortion part of our democracy,” Obama says, and their favorite local talk radio host responds with questions of whether or not he really went to Harvard.
What Ted Cruz understands is that there is enough distrust of Obama out there that a win may be possible. Sure, it’s nice in principle to see a minority able to hold its ground in our national polis, but we all acknowledge that it’s also crazy in this particular instance. Please understand that as much as the most conservative people in this country hate Obama, we must continue to articulate our liberal ideology in our most polite and logical way. The rejectionists who want to erase this presidency will not go away, but that doesn’t mean that young Wesleyan students can go away. Every apolitical step you take is a win for Ted Cruz.
Lahut is a member of the class of 2017.