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February 13, 2014

Lip Service Leadership

Conning the Tea Party and satisfying the GOP’s true constituency

Speaker Boehner and the Republican committee chairs in the House, want to lose the debt ceiling battles. They’re scared of what will happen if they win!

They also want their base to buy the idea that they really, really care about balancing the budget, reducing the national debt, and reining-in The State. So they perform…

Lip Service Leadership

Last fall, we had a so-called government “shutdown.” It’s hard calling it a shutdown, when only 13% of the government was temporarily closed, and when all the furloughed employees received back-pay for the imposed vacation.

That shutdown, small as it was, was a real opportunity. People were discovering that life went on just fine without The State.

Yes, the Republicans were taking a hit in the polls. But there are always casualties in battle. This was no surprise.

But the Democrats were declining in support too. Punishing taxpayers by closing monuments hurt them in the TV imagery battle.

That’s why it seemed, at the time, that Republicans had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When they gave in, they gave in completely — unconditional surrender. They secured not even a morsel of concession from the Democrats.

No taxpayer money was saved. It all seemed so pointless.

Many of my friends believed that it was “testicular fortitude” that cost the GOP. They just didn’t have the fight in them.

Truth be told, they didn’t. After all, the Democrats went into the match hoping for the fight, believing they’d come out smelling like roses. The Republicans, on the other hand, were doing it out of begrudging duty, believing they were going to lose. It’s rarely hard to pick who is going to win a fight, when one guy’s itching for it and the other guy is scared.

But the problem is deeper than that. The loss wasn’t pointless, after all.

The Republican Leadership is not part of the Tea Party movement — neither its fiscal libertarian aspect (of which I approve), nor its nativist aspect (of which I disapprove). But in the sick world of politics, the most senior incumbents get elevated by the gains of new representatives joining their caucus. Thus…

When Tea Party members helped Republicans capture the majority, they were elevating old dogs who got their positions through cronyism.

These old dogs weren’t about to stop their gravy train. But they knew they’d at least have to keep up appearances.

So, they took a risk and demonstrated to their Tea Party constituents that they cared about debts and deficits. Then, they threw the fight.

This accomplished two things. First, they tossed a symbolic bone to the Tea Party. Then, they delivered the bacon to their real constituents (we’ll get to them in a minute).

Even better, by taking it on the chin in a non-election year, they could quiet the more economically conservative wing of their party. They could say, “See, when there’s a government shutdown, we always lose.”

And losing a legislative battle has suddenly become the most awful, terrible thing that can happen to a party. See…

If there were really two parties, then losing a legislative battle would be a coveted opportunity. After the loss, you take your case to the people. You could point out the clear distinction. You could make your opponent defend his record. This is how you pave the way to later victories. It seems so obvious. But it’s not happening. Why?

Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and individuals like Karl Rove, have gone on the warpath. They want to root out the Tea Party infestation. They’re attacking Tea Party candidates in the primaries, and they’re backing their status quo selections with big dollars.

And on the national stage, they’re attempting to undermine the reputations of Tea Party favored candidates. Usually, that means suggesting that these “radical” candidates are unelectable. It’s a theme that’s caught on in the mainstream media narrative. But Rove went so far as to suggest that Rep. Justin Amash, one of the Tea Party favorites, is “far more liberal than any Republican.” And this week, he’s attacking Rand Paul for calling out Bill Clinton.

This week’s decision to surrender on the debt ceiling doesn’t necessarily have to be a conspiracy on the parts of all involved. Certain interests pursue government contracts and favors. And these “leaders” in Congress must know that are merely investments. They’re expected to deliver a return to established, corporate interests. Otherwise, they might lose their cushy jobs.

So, while they spout the Tea Party-pleasing rhetoric that gets them the marginal votes they need for victory, they wonder: “If I stopped overspending on my cronies, would I still have this great job and the future that awaits me should I leave it?”

So when they say, “We’ll lose that fight,” they really mean it.

However, if you’re concerned about the debt ceiling, you’re not part of that “we.” They mean that they will lose backing from the established powers that got them their high position in the first place.

All of this is so sadly predictable, if you start with the right presumptions. Cronyism isn’t a flaw, it’s a feature of statism. The State requires cronyism, so the statist acquires a taste for it. The Republican Leadership finds statism delicious. But they’ll agree to eat less of it in front of you. After all, they’re not Democrats!


Jim Babka is the President of, Inc.

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