I admit to being puzzled by congressional Republicans’ strategic choices over the past few weeks. The notion that adding a defund-Obamacare provision to the continuing resolution or debt-ceiling measure would actually result in defunding Obamacare sounded too much like the strategy the “underpants gnomes” adopted in that classic episode of South Park. The kids discover that gnomes are stealing people’s underpants. The gnomes finally cop to the crime, describing it as the first of three steps to economic success. “Step 1: Collect underpants. Step 2: ???. Step 3: Profit!” Too many conservatives of my acquaintance seemed thrilled by the opportunity to stage a glorious defeat to prove their heroism. I always thought it was better to win quietly than lose loudly. Others had given into desperation — prematurely, in my view. Throwing a Hail Mary pass with seconds to go in a game you’re losing may be wise. Throwing a Hail Mary in the middle of the second quarter is foolish.
All that having been said, President Obama and congressional Democrats are defending their position poorly. For example, how many times in the past 24 hours have you heard them or their allies make the argument that Obamacare is a settled issue because 1) it was enacted by duly elected federal lawmakers and signed by a duly elected president, 2) the U.S. Supreme Court said it passed constitutional muster, and 3) it was championed by a reelected Obama and opposed by a defeated Romney? That’s not how republics work — no issue is ever truly settled — but more important it’s not how these same folks behave on other issues.
Take voter ID. Many states, including my own North Carolina, have seen voter ID became law through the actions of duly elected state lawmakers and governors. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that voter ID passes constitutional muster. State officials enacting voter ID have subsequently been reelected. But in the eyes of the Obama administration, voter ID is about as far away from “settled” as an issue can be. Attorney General Eric Holder has just announced a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s new election law, including the photo-ID requirement. The Justice Department continues to pursue or threaten similar litigation in other states.
A fair comparison? I think so. But there is an important difference between Obamacare and voter ID. The former is unpopular. The latter is supported by the vast majority of voters, including most Democrats, independents, and minorities. So conservatives are fighting an uphill battle to defeat an unpopular law. Liberals are fighting an uphill battle (I suspect) to defeat a popular law.