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Nobody can know for months who ‘won’ the Battle of the Shutdown

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Proposed opening question for the first GOP presidential debate in the fall of 2015: “Was the ‘shutdown showdown‘ of October 2013 good or necessary — either or both — and why?”

I don’t have any idea how it will be answered by the 10 or so potentially serious candidates who may be on that stage, but the difficulty of predicting the best answer can be found — where else? — in two movies about war.

Politics ain’t beanbag, but it certainly isn’t war, either, as the almost-certain-to-be-Arkansas’-next-senator Tom Cotton will tell you.

Rep. Cotton, a combat veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq and a Harvard undergrad and Harvard lawyer to boot — is running against the hapless Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, and veterans of real combat like Cotton should be kept in mind when pundits start talking about battles and war.

But two movies about one war are very instructive on the current inability of serious observers to figure out the longer term implications of the shutdown showdown.

“Atonement” was nominated for Best Picture in 2008 at least in part for its horrifyingly realistic depiction of the brutality of the Dunkirk battle and evacuation.

A decade earlier, “Saving Private Ryan” had also been nominated for Best Picture, and that was at least in part for its horrifyingly realistic depiction of the invasion of Normandy and the battle on its beaches.

Early in the second film, a stunned Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, hears through a concussion the shouted words of a panicked private: “Where’s the rally point? Where’s the rally point?” Miller/Hanks shouts back through his dazed confusion: “Anywhere but here.”

Many Republicans are feeling pretty much that way about the shutdown showdown this Monday morning, but they need to remember a couple of things.

First, the scenes of battle on the beaches of Dunkirk and of Normandy look and feel a great deal alike, and no doubt really were to anyone who fought in both of them.

But the one was a great defeat that became a rallying point, and the later a great win that bogged down for more than a month after its initial foothold was gained.

Point is, to the combatants, victories and defeats can feel the same, and this much is true about the often tortured analogies of politics to war.

We don’t know how this month’s drama will play out over the next 13 months, or how the reputations of its key actors will rise and fall. Our feelings about it and the mess it is just doesn’t tell us much.

Along with the lefty Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein (I interviewed him on my show Friday and the transcript is available at and lefty pollster Nate Silver, I agree that it simply isn’t possible to predict the political consequences of this confrontation.

But unlike Klein and Silver, and at least a few very prominent conservative pundits and electeds, I am very happy it has occurred, and very satisfied with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies who are accused of precipitating it.

I may be proven wrong, but I may be proven right. What won’t be debatable is that the stakes of the debate are very high and they are about very important subjects, far more important than whether the EPA is shuttered for three weeks or a fake debt limit of October 17th is passed.

The electorate will judge in a year. And they will remember who fought on the ramparts to stop Obamacare and the surrendering of Article I authority to a reckless and petulant president.


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