Wednesday, October 16, 2013

#Losing: The Goal Behind The Shutdown

Total Victory Is Ours
Here's Rand Paul from Sept 20th:
Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that Republicans are like Charlie Sheen and are actually “winning” despite criticisms this week of party disarray over a budget strategy that would defund Obamacare, according to reports.

Does anybody remember Charlie Sheen when he was kind of going crazy…And he was going around, jumping around saying ‘Winning, winning, we’re winning,’” Paul (R-Ky.) said, according to an MSNBC report. “Well I kind of feel like that, we are winning. And I’m not on any drugs.
Yesterday, from Rush Limbaugh:
RUSH: I want to go back to the lady on the phone who says this doesn’t feel right. What’s happening here to the country just doesn’t feel right. You know what’s happened here? You know what this feels like, folks? I’ll tell you exactly what it feels like to me. You tell me if this isn’t close. It feels like we’ve lost a war to a communist country. It’s almost like there’s been a coup. There’s been a peaceful coup. The media has led this coup, and the Democrats have taken over with popular support. We’re getting policies and implementations and things that were never, ever part of this country’s design and founding.
 And Ted Cruz (5 days ago):
[T]ed Cruz has a message for you doubters: Republicans are winning. “The Democrats are feeling the heat!” Cruz told the crowd at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of religious conservative activists. 
By Cruz’s account, the Obamacare standoff as a fight whose life-or-death importance was matched only by its smashing success. The closest he came to acknowledging complaints the strategy might be going off the rails was when he warned the audience not to listen to the haters. 
The greatest trick the left has ever played is to convince conservatives we cannot win,” he said.
 And today:
The Wall Street Journal follows Obamacare defunders through the 5 Stages of Grief (quoting Erza Klein) but laments:
The current Beltway standoff will be evanescent, assuming it is resolved before it turns into a real economic crisis. ObamaCare will still be with us. Like an injection of morphine to someone suffering from a crippling degenerative disease, the diversion no doubt made the past two weeks more comfortable for the White House. But the underlying problem isn't going away.
It also notes that while Medicare Part D was a disaster on launch it was at least somewhat bipartisan and Obamacare will not get any support from the Republicans. Perhaps, though, Lindsey Graham should consider his own advice? Nahh.

Where Did This Come From?
So how did it happen that a disastrous strategy--which many, if not most, political observers though was doomed to failure from the start--come to the GOP and the base? How did we wind up here? Let's test some theories ...

We Were LIED To By Cruz!!
The number one going theory is that Ted Cruz and his cohort oversold their chances of success to the base. Aided and abetted by Conservative Media he was able to convince people that not only could he win--but that victory was assured--and to-date is still happening. We're #winning!

The problem with this is that it's clearly, plainly, painfully not true. The Ted Cruz poll-unskewing is so 2012. The idea that things are tough all over (that Obama, the Dems, and the Republicans alike are losing ground) ignores the fact that (a) Republicans are losing the most ground and (b) the margins by which they are blamed have gone up over the course of the shutdown rather than down. It's the lose-money-on-every-sale-but-make-it-up-in-volume strategy.

Furthermore, the idea that Cruz has simply bamboozled various hick Republicans makes a critical error in ignoring the root cause of the problem: Cruz and his posse were elected in the first place. They were sent to Washington, more or less literally, to shutdown the government. To kamikaze into Obamacare if needs be. They are not the advertiser--they are the product. They're not even defective: if Ted Cruz did say "we tried and lost" that'd be a failure. Claiming he's won (Just you wait for 2014!) is his primary feature.

So it's not that.

It's All About Cruz 2016 ...
The second theory--and it has been expressed by the Omnivore--is that the driving force behind the Cruz-attack is his wish to win the 2016 presidential election. There can be almost no doubt that (a) he does want that and (b) despite logic, he probably thinks he can win it. But is that what made the base and other Republicans go along with him? No.

Firstly, it will not make, for instance, Mike Lee President. Guy might not even get Secretary of State (that'll go to a woman: Sarah Palin). Secondly, while it's true that everyone fears a primary, Cruz is not exactly leveraging the base's beliefs about politics--he's more like strapping himself to the front of the missile. He'll get there first (the pole position in the 2016 primaries) but the rocket was going up anyway.

How do we know that Cruz isn't driving? The answer is in the strategy shift:  Debt Ceiling deniers. They didn't exist previous to the current disaster. Until recently the Debt Ceiling was the ultimate leverage: Obama would have to cave. But now the true believers have decided there was never anything to be worried about in the first place. If that were true, why threaten Obama with it?

Right. Cruz didn't create them--they are an organic outgrowth of an attempt to justify a collapsing strategy. Just as Cruz isn't "landing the plane" (he still insists he's gaining altitude) he isn't "controlling the crash" either (were that true he'd land somewhere other than on top of the Tea Party). He's as along-for-the-ride as anyone (that doesn't excuse him--it's just the dynamic).

The Base Is KA-RAY-ZEE
You can make a case that the base is simply out of touch with reality and behaving incoherently. While that's not a hard sell on some counts ("Put the Koran down" and, of course, Debt Ceiling Deniers) it's also just plainly not literally true. The base isn't crazy--not in the real sense. They aren't even out-of-touch with reality: they could see banks warning on short-term T-Bills yesterday like everybody else--they just excused it. The same way you do when you have that extra piece of cake you really know you shouldn't. A perfectly sane human mind is a justification machine. That's like our core competency.

In fact, the base isn't reacting illogically. They just have a different set of parameters than anyone not-the-base. Given their starting point they're behaving perfectly sanely. Their starting point? That isn't insane either. It's psychology.

Why Is This Happening?
Look at the key findings from the Democracy Corps survey of the Republican base:

If you read it carefully the drivers are clear: the base feels like it already lost. This isn't about "stopping the destruction of the country"--the Let It Burn faction was already nominally committed to that--it's about having lost the war already. It's the war against contraception, homosexuality, and the teeming not-them masses that they describe as 'government dependents' (creating an imaginary world wherein giving someone a cell phone grants total control over an entire racial demographic).

People who dislike or even hate Obama's policies can say so loudly (the GOP leaders and multitudes of conservative bloggers who rejected the shutdown strategy)--but they do not call Obama a Kenyan Muslim traitor. That's reserved for a deeper feeling: a feeling that one has been defeated by the other.

Of course most people using that rhetoric don't really believe the literal truth of the statement either: How easy would it be to verify (easy)? How hard would it be to fake (impossible)? Certainly some people have gone 'all in' trying to disprove the birth certificate--but most people? Most people just compartmentalize their beliefs and use the words to express feelings they could never admit (even internally) to owning.

Want proof? People really, honestly believe that crossing the street in front of an oncoming car will kill them. That drives actual behavior (lookin' both ways). Believing that Obama is a tyrannical Kenyan dictator? That's something you say around the dinner-table after watching Fox News so you can gain solidarity with other people who also feel defeated. Calling him that prevents you from having to take real, positive (and hard and personally costly) action.

Of course voting for the small percentage of people who will carry out your death-bed wishes is comparatively easy  against, say leaving the country (you still can, right? You could go to the birthplace of Ted Cruz ... Canada), or doing the Birth Certificate investigation yourself (it's not that hard ... and it ends quickly in Hawaii), or even taking up arms against the government (were we actually ruled by a tyrant people would be).

So that's what has happened: a small group of people (20-30 in Congress) have stepped forward to be the instruments of the base--to carry out their wishes. That wish--that mission--is very, very obvious: If we lost the government and the country there is only one thing left to do.

Take it away.

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