House Republicans are consoling themselves in defeat by saying that they fought the good fight. What a good many of them actually did was throw themselves halfheartedly behind a strategy that they knew very well was highly unlikely to succeed. That strategy has now yielded its predictable, and predicted, results. Public support for Republicans has dropped substantially, they are more divided, and they have won no concessions from the Democrats.
Some House Republicans claim that they were on the verge of winning the shutdown fight when Senate Republicans undercut them by agreeing to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for nothing. Again, the truth is otherwise. The Democrats gave no indication that they were going to buckle, and the polls did not give them much reason to feel any pressure to do so. A unified party would not have been sufficient to force Democrats to defund Obamacare, and that unity could never have been achieved, since many Republicans grasped the point.
And one final consolatory myth, that the shutdown at least brought the defects of Obamacare to public attention, must also be abandoned. Obamacare itself has been bringing its defects to public attention, but been obscured — momentarily, we trust — by the drama of the shutdown.
As critical as we have been of the shutdown strategy, we have also said that the people behind it have been clearer on the threat that Obamacare poses to the country than have many Republican leaders. Sounding the alarm, halting the law if possible, and eventually repealing it were and are worthy goals. The fact that the public has consistently registered opposition to the law suggests that these goals may be attainable. But the public does not hate and fear the law with the intensity that we conservatives do. It also wants answers to important questions — how can health insurance be made more affordable? how can people with pre-existing conditions get coverage? — that Republicans have not convincingly offered.
Decades of misguided government policies have created many of the dysfunctions in our health-care system that frustrate Americans, and Obamacare makes those dysfunctions worse. We can do better, and we should have confidence that if we make that case with conviction and intelligence we can bring the public to our side and prevail. Throwing ourselves on the tracks, on the other hand, as we have seen, will certainly fail.