The Corner

The Fight Goes On

Well, not since I made a joke about media overreaction to Hurricane Katrina just before the levees burst, have I written something as poorly timed as today’s column. I wrote it before Senator Cruz launched his epic filibuster (or “faux filibuster” depending whom you talk to), not knowing he would be claiming the mantle of the heroic leader of the opposition. Worse, this comes on the heels of the brouhaha I started on Special Report last week (for which I apologized).

I’ve re-read the column, and while I would have written it differently in light of recent events, I don’t see anything to apologize for, save perhaps the timing. People on the right who think it’s the lowest insult to compare Cruz to Obama should, I think, at least acknowledge I was speaking of very specific things: namely an approach to the processes of politics. Both Cruz and Obama subscribe to a theory of the grassroots that I think works well for elections (and fundraising), but not very well for policy and legislation. They both also have little interest in playing by the established rules – a trait many conservatives criticize in Obama and praise in Cruz. Philosophically, however, I note they are light years apart, and on that score I am pretty much in lockstep with Cruz.

But philosophical agreement is a standard in low regard these days on the right. Procedural, tactical and emotional agreement is the measure of men. So let me say that while I still think the overall defund strategy was ill-advised, I think Cruz’s just concluded filibuster was pretty heroic and his performance, both physical and intellectual, was nothing less remarkable. He’s done a great service by calling attention to the failures and flaws of Obamacare. I could have done without some of the needless (to put it charitably) disparagement of colleagues and allies he will need in battles to come. But I am at a loss as to how there’s much of a downside to his effort. The House has voted dozens of times to get rid of Obamacare but such votes haven’t penetrated deeply into the national conversation the way Cruz’s floor speech did, telegraphing to the whole country the breadth and depth of conservative opposition to the law.

And that’s a great service, because the one thing Ted Cruz has been most wrong about is the idea that the battle against Obamacare will be lost forever on October 1. The battle will go on (Indeed, as Holman Jenkins argues pretty effectively today, the battle is really just beginning).

This was always the core problem with Cruz’s argument: that if we don’t fight here on his chosen ground the fight will be lost for all time. If Cruz believed that, he would be the one surrendering if his effort doesn’t pan out. But I assume – and hope! — Ted Cruz won’t surrender to Obamacare if/when his plan fails. Nor will Mike Lee (who just said as much), Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, or Cruz’s other allies in the Senate. Nor will the outside forces supporting Cruz, like Heritage Action or our friends at RedState or in talk radio. Similarly, those who’ve been accused of “surrendering” this whole time, will actually keep fighting. Alleged quislings like Mitch McConnell and Tom Coburn will presumably continue to look for ways to dismantle and defund Obamacare. National Review will still be advocating repeal and replace (as will pretty much every conservative publication I can think of). The debate will change, of course, because we will have actual evidence of how Obamacare is – and isn’t — working. New constituencies hurt by Obamacare will join the fray, and some others may opt out as the subsidies kick-in. But it will remain a live issue for years to come, including in the 2014 and 2016 elections. I think Ted Cruz’s filibuster helped in that effort.

In politics defeat doesn’t come with an arbitrary deadline. Defeat comes when one side gives up the fight. I don’t see anybody giving up the fight. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, there’s no such thing as a truly lost cause, because there’s no such thing as a truly won cause. The cause endures so long as there are those willing to fight it. 

So congratulations to Ted Cruz and let’s hope he’s just getting warmed up. 

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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