5 lessons from the Republican Revolution of 2013
If Your American Government were directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the opening image would be of an empty road, full of cans, with shoe-dents in them.
Until the next crisis, if there is a next crisis, the Republican Party will attempt to regroup, ObamaCare will live (hopefully as something other than a software glitch), and we can all get pack to pondering the computer collapse that led to the first-ever blown deadline for South Park.
Here are five things you might want to remember, five things that were not necessarily evident even if this ending — a last-minute compromise — was:
1. The Democrats didn't buckle. This is a party so fond of conceding that it went into the negotiations assuming that it would not hold together. And yet, the party stuck together, even though many Democrats live in districts where "ObamaCare" is unpopular (although the underlying programs probably aren't). Maybe it was the polls, maybe it was the dire predictions of Republican failure, or maybe the Democratic Party has finally figured out how to link arms and not give in, even in an age when party leaders have few direct means of using their power. That Democrats sticking together might even be the biggest benefit the party derived from this mess; it figured out how to hang together and has now experienced a solid victory.
2. John Boehner earned a lot of credit among members, and that might give him some leverage in future showdowns. I assumed that Boehner would lose credibility with members of his conference, but the effect of repeatedly refusing to allow votes on previous stop-gap legislation AND the effect of watching Boehner take lumps in the press helped to build his credibility among Tea Party members. Not only is his leadership status unchallengeable, but he might have earned some room to be more flexible early next year. At some point, though, Boehner will face Sophie's choice... unless of course this lasts until and through the 2014 elections and he decides to retire or step down, or if Democrats win the House.
3. Obama didn't get angry. The executive branch has a narcissism complex, and this isn't Obama's fault. But President Obama learned from previous battles with Republicans that the more he made the fight about himself and his policies, the more formidable his opposition became. Republicans made this fight about ObamaCare. Instead of vigorously defending his signature piece of domestic legislation, instead of, in the end game, trying to fill the breach by using his personality, or by getting angry in public, he was calm and collected, and didn't go out of his way to needlessly anger or provoke the GOP. He even gave Speaker Boehner a lot of latitude. In the end, it helped that Obama did not make himself any more the face of what the GOP united around. They weren't able to unite around much of anything.
4. The media mostly called it correctly. Some headlines about "both sides" notwithstanding, it was hard to read a paper or watch TV without understanding quite succinctly that one "side" was a hell of a lot more irresponsible than the other.
5. Republicans still control the vector of spending. The continuing resolution passed today funds the government at the level set into law by the budget control act, which is much lower than President Obama expected it would be when he began his second term. And that, in the end, is why Republicans can be somewhat confident about the future of spending policy. The politics might suck for them, but the baseline for future negotiations is the sequester-level U.S. government. That's the new normal.