Timothy R. Clark: The outfoxed Republican Party

Published: Friday, Oct. 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The U.S. Capitol is seen under an overcast sky at dawn, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, at the Capitol in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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The Republican Party has been outfoxed in its attempt to put the full faith and credit of the United States on the line and for making a rogue attempt to defund Obamacare. Some people think President Obama played the GOP like a fiddle. But this time all the president had to do was watch.

To attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act in the midst of the current political context is either naiveté or willful blindness. Obamacare is bad law and its implementation has been an administrative failure. But that’s not the point. The defund strategy rallied the standard bearers of ideological purity and no one else. This wasn’t a high risk/high reward proposition. It was intolerable risk/certain punishment. Cornering the administration and bringing the nation to the brink of default was never winnable. Extreme solutions neutralize themselves for the very reason that they are extreme.

I, too, stand for the principles of small government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. I, too, am concerned about what appears to be the inexorable march of entitlements paid for with other people’s money. This nation is doing exactly what George Washington in his farewell address warned us not to do — “ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”

The GOP needs to get a strategy.

Those who participated in this failed coup have burnished their conservative credentials but tarnished their leadership credentials. They have filled their coffers for re-election and yet marginalized themselves. The net effect of their bravery is yet more embarrassment for the GOP, which is currently suffering its lowest approval ratings in recorded history. The party is fractured and confused. It lacks leadership and a unifying vision.

The Democrats are better strategists, and they enjoy a natural advantage as the American electorate continues to inch toward the left with its appetite for permissive social policy and the expansionist welfare state. This will not likely change unless there is brazen corruption, extended economic dislocation or a looming security threat. Societies, like individuals, tend to change at the precipice, and this nation is no exception.

Today, the Affordable Care Act is a source of frustration for a few citizens trying to log on to a website, a source of concern for many who don’t know what the law really means, and yet a source of hope for most. So which party wins?

For the time being, the Democratic Party, in spite of its administrative incompetence, is seen as the party of solutions. It is perceived as better able to identify and address the pain. And where is that pain? It is found in the absence of affordable health care. Again, never mind that Obamacare curbs self-reliance, personal accountability and even the exercise of First Amendment rights as we are now compelled to pay for abortions and birth control. We are talking strategy.

When the pain people suffer becomes severe, they choose an offered solution instead of no solution. In the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt crushed Herbert Hoover in the presidential election of 1932 for the same reason. Reagan trounced Carter in 1980 in the trough of a recession. Leadership versus no leadership. Solution versus no solution. Here we are again.

Think about this question as a matter of political strategy: Should we do something at the risk of doing too much or getting it wrong, or should we do nothing? Should we trade the felt pain of today for the unfelt pain of tomorrow? As dysfunctional as the Democratic Party may be, and as odious a law as the Affordable Healthcare Act is, the law passed.

Abraham Lincoln observed, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” The Democrats may be irresponsible, but they are better at making friends.

Obama is selling security. The GOP is mocking that pitch. Who wins?

Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark & Company, a leadership consulting and training organization. He earned a doctorate from Oxford University. Email: trclark@trclark.net

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