WASHINGTON — The coming battles over budgets, the debt ceiling, a government shutdown and Obamacare are not elements of a large political game. They involve a fundamental showdown over the role of government in stemming rising inequality and making our country a fairer and more decent place.
Anyone who doesn’t see this should be forgiven. The stakes in this battle are almost always buried in news accounts about tactics and obscured by an unquenchable desire across the media to provide the latest take on whether President Obama is growing “weak” and has already become the lamest of lame ducks.
Yes, Obama has work to do in quelling doubts about his leadership. But little of what we’re hearing offers enlightenment as to why this big argument is happening in the first place, and why it matters.
To begin with, this is not just a fight between Republicans and Democrats. The GOP is clearly divided between those who take governing seriously — they still believe in government enough to accept responsibility for keeping it open — and those who see in every issue the “final conflict” that Marxists kept predicting. Stopping Obamacare, in their view, is necessary to prevent the country from reaching the end of the road to serfdom. Compared with this hellish prospect, who cares about shutdowns?
What’s fascinating, and this speaks to the perceived power of the Tea Party in primaries, is that it’s taking only a small minority of House Republicans to push toward Armageddon. The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane estimated that roughly 40 conservatives revolted against their leadership’s efforts to keep the government open past Sept. 30. That’s 40 in a 435-member House of Representatives. What’s become of us when less than 10 percent of one chamber of Congress can unleash chaos? What does this say about the House Republican leadership gap?
But it’s also important to understand why the Republican right is so fixated on killing or delaying Obamacare before it goes into effect. Their central worry is not that it will fail, but that it will succeed.
In an interview on Fox News this summer, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a leader of the “stop Obamacare” forces, gave the game away. After ritualistically declaring that “Obamacare isn’t working,” he said this: “If we’re going to repeal it, we’ve got to do so now or it will remain with us forever.” Why? Because once the administration gets “the [health insurance] exchanges in place … the subsidies in place,” people will get “hooked on Obamacare so that it can never be unwound.”