WASHINGTON — When Dwight Eisenhower asked Gen. Georgy Zhukov how the Red Army cleared minefields, Zhukov replied: "We march through them." Being profligate with lives is a perquisite of command and a luxury of those with an abundance of lives at their command. Some congressional Republicans, who do not command their party but can implicate it in their marches through minefields, might resuscitate Barack Obama's presidency by restocking his pantry of excuses: The economy's continuing anemia will ever after be blamed on any government shutdown.
The face of this Republican faction is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, on whose boots glistens dew from the grass roots. Recently, he was making desultory passes at breakfast oatmeal after returning to Washington at 2 a.m. from a Manhattan television studio, where he exhorted conservatives nationwide to somehow force Obama to accept defunding of the Affordable Care Act. Cruz explained his thinking:
It is two minutes until midnight. On Jan. 1, 2014, the ACA's insurance subsidies begin, like a heroin drip, making Americans instant addicts. The Obama administration knows that no major entitlement, once tasted, has been repealed. The administration is uninterested in enforcing the subsidies' eligibility requirements. Hence Republicans must be prepared to shutter the government. Obama will be blamed for resulting inconveniences because he will have vetoed funding for everything rather than accepting denial of funding for one thing — the ACA. Granted, Republicans, not President Bill Clinton, were blamed for the 1995 shutdown. But today's circumstances are different because of the rise of the conservative grass roots. The defeat of Obama's gun-control agenda, Rand Paul's filibuster about presidential use of drones, and opposition to attacking Syria prove that presidents and traditional media no longer dominate national debates. Since 1995, the burgeoning of conservative journalism, talk radio, the Internet and social media has changed everything.
Well. Those people who are best at deceiving others first deceive themselves. They often do so by allowing their wishes to be the fathers of their thoughts, and begin by wishing that everything has changed.
If the ACA is, as conservatives believe, as unpleasant in potential effects as it is impossible to implement, conservatives should allow what Lincoln called "the silent artillery of time" to destroy it. Obama is one of those who mistake their good luck for genius. Having been wafted into high office by gusts of Republican failures, he became the first president to win a second term with reduced percentages of both the popular and electoral votes. Nevertheless, Obama remains mesmerized by himself. He has not noticed that many objects of his rhetorical support — the ACA; scores of Democratic candidates; his gun-control agenda; his plan to attack Syria — have not become popular.
The government should not be closed; the debt ceiling will be raised. Republicans should, however, take to heart the last words of H.L. Mencken's summation of Theodore Roosevelt: "Well, one does what one can." Republicans can give Democrats a ruinous opportunity to insist upon unpopular things. House Republicans can attach to the continuing resolution that funds the government, and then to the increase in the debt ceiling, two provisions: Preservation of the ACA requirement — lawlessly disregarded by the administration — that members of Congress and their staffs must experience the full enjoyment of the ACA without special ameliorating subsidies. And a one-year delay of the ACA's individual mandate.
By vetoing legislation because of these provisions, and by having his vetoes sustained by congressional Democrats, Obama will underscore Democrats' devotion: Devotion to self-dealing by the political class, and to the principle that only powerful interests (businesses), not mere citizens, can delay the privilege of complying with the ACA.
Arithmetic, not moral failings, makes Republicans unable to overturn Obama's vetoes. So after scoring some points, Republicans should vote, more in sorrow than in anger, to fund the government (at sequester levels, a significant victory) and to increase the debt ceiling. Having forced Democrats to dramatize their perverse priorities, Republicans can turn to completing the neutering of this presidency by winning six Senate seats.
Republicans now making a moral melodrama over any vote that allows the ACA to be funded should remember Everett Dirksen of Illinois. The leader of Senate Republicans during passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act recalled, "Forty preachers caught me one afternoon there in that lobby. 'I am not a moralist,' I told them, 'I am a legislator.'" It is good to be both; it is sterile to be the former to the exclusion of the latter.
George Will's email address is [email protected].