They shut down the federal government to prevent the institution of Obamacare. Problem is, the launch of the next phase of the Affordable Care Act wasn’t dependent on the 2014 budget, which was scheduled to commence Oct. 1.
So, major parts of the government are closed but millions of Americans are exploring their health-insurance options under Obamacare.
President Barack Obama shows no interest in negotiating what’s called the signature legislation of his presidency. Opinion polling shows the majority of Americans are blaming Republicans for the shutdown. And the most lively D.C. fights are between Republicans, with the old guard blaming the upstarts for putting their party in this mess.
What went wrong?
A working theory is that Republicans who pressed for a shutdown are suffering from a sort of mass delusion. This is a repeat of the 2012 presidential election, the conventional wisdom goes. A year ago, many Republicans were convinced that polls showing an Obama re-election were biased against the GOP. Thus, election night was a cold dose of reality, not unlike the fallout from the current shutdown.
It’s a plausible theory, yet we tend to see it in the context of a decade or so years ago, not last year.
In fall 2002, the Bush administration ramped up its case for invading Iraq.
The arguments went something like this: Iraq almost certainly had weapons of mass destruction and was attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. These WMDs could very likely wind up in the hands of al-Qaida, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. Getting rid of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein would allow democracy to blossom in the Arab world. Iraq’s oil riches would finance the U.S. invasion and occupation, which, by the way, should last no longer than a few months.
In early 2003, the United States pre-emptively invaded Iraq.
We know how that story turned out. Over the years, the Republicans who sold the Iraq war to Americans distanced themselves from this foreign-policy disaster. In the end, only the most loyal grassroots partisans held tight to the WMD myth or that the “liberation” of Iraq served our national interests. (For the record, a recent New Yorker article credibly reports that Iraq has in many ways become a client-state of Iran.)
We see the same scenario playing out over the shutdown. As The New York Times reported Sunday, the closure of the federal government was a plan hatched earlier this year by rightwing policy advocates who convinced its like-minded followers that it wasn’t too late to stop Obamacare. These radicals pressed Republican congressional leaders into their current predicament — shutting down the government over a law that’s been passed by Congress, signed by the president, approved by the Supreme Court and is proceeding ahead unimpeded.
It seems likely that by the end of the shutdown only the dead-enders (to recall a Iraq war phrase made famous by Donald Rumsfeld) will remain convinced that this self-inflicted crisis was a winning strategy, for their party or their nation.