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Debating Ezra Klein On Why The Shutdown Won’t Matter In 2014, And Why He, And Nate Silver, Are Wrong

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On Friday, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein joined me to discuss the shutdown showdown.  (Transcript here.)

Ezra is one of the resident lefty bloggers at the Washington Post, and an interesting force in D.C. among lefties –the self-made public intellectual who willed himself to influence without ever having worked in government or politics.  He simply started writing and opining and gathered an audience, then the WaPo credentialed him and in a way not remotely possible before the rise of the web, became an influencer, who, along with the (mostly) retired Nate Silver seem to cue up the younger cadres of social media activists of the left.

What Ezra and many other younger members of the commentariat lack is the key to understanding the current battle, at least from the GOP side: It isn’t for all of us just about Obamacare, but about the fundamentals of how the republic ought to work.

Right before Ezra came on I had spent an hour with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College talking about just these fundamentals, but Ezra wanted no part of that discussion, citing his lack of expertise in Constitutional Law.  I don’t think it is possible to understand what is happening without an eye on those fundamentals, and you don’t need to be a Constitutional lawyer to debate them because the Constitution was writtent o be understood by farmers, and even illiterate farmers are that. (He might want to start with Arnn’s The Founder’s Key.)

I encourage you to read the conversation with Ezra with an eye on that central divide.  We taped the interview before he posted his most recent column in which he concluded that “events in October 2013 are very unlikely to drive an election in November 2014,” but that was also his conclusion in our conversation which concluded  that “[t]he idea that this shutdown, which I do expect to end in the next couple of weeks, will matter 13 months from now to voters. I think it’s very implausible.”

It may not matter to the Democrats much, but it will matter enormously to the millions of Americans who think that, once again, the president has overreached, has demanded unilateralism when the Constitution requires a separation of powers, and who value their representatives at least as much as their president, especially on questions of foreign policy.  It will matter because the Article One authorities demanded changes to the disastrous policy innovations of the president and a previous Congress, and were blocked in achieving those changes even in the face of the quite obvious and enormous collapse of the rollout of the Obamacare fiasco.  This is a lasting memory: The president’s high-handed stubborness and brinksmanship even when his signature indeed namesake law was falling apart.  Polls say the public doesn’t like the way the Republicans tried and tried and tried to change the law.  Fine.  The law will nest and fester.  It will not work because it cannot work –these are the points that Ted cruz and his colleagues have been making, and they are tattooed on the American political consciousness in a way that not even the MSM will be able to wash off.

When yesterday’s long dialogue with Dr. Arnn posts, compare his analysis and his points to those made by Ezra.  There you will see the foreshadowing of the next 13 months of debate, and it is exactly the debate the GOP should welcome, and which the GOP will win, even as the Left wholly fails to understand what it is about, and I mean that quite literally.  They won’t get it.  It will totally pass them by, and most of the MSM as well.

Yes, of course the GOP should try for as much as they can achieve now –especially the repeal of the medical Device Tax because of its uniquely terrible structure and effects– and yes, it is disappointing that House and Senate GOPers seem so disconnected from each other when they are in the same party, attend the same rallies, raise money from the same people.  The problem is that while conservatives lead the Senate in the form of Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, the Senate contains a small rump of four to six non-ideological deal makers who love spotlights more than strategy or first principles, though they have persuaded themselves of much higher purposes.  The problem in the House is that most of the old guard, while good folks, are not ideological in the way the classes of 2010 and 2012 are, and this old guard are the men and women who are the friends of Speaker Boehner, his colleagues of long-standing and for whom he has deep affection, so the House’s leadership is less conservative than its members but perfectly reflects the old GOP’s approach and views.

Paul Ryan is the transitional figure between the past and future of the House and so his work is crucial, but the Senate’s “wheel-and-deal” caucus and the fecklessness and unreliability of the president overwhelmed Ryan’s effort, and appears to have derailed it.  Who knows for sure?

What we do know is that there is enormous clarity about the two sides –right and left– right now, a clarity about ownership of Obamacare and about attitudes towards democratically elected opposition –“anarchists,” “arsonists,” people who wear “suicide vests”– and what that enormous clarity has revealed won’t be forgotten.

Bring on 2104.  Klein and Silver are right –the shutdown won’t matter 13 months from now.  The rhetoric and the revealing of true character will.


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