In 2012, Obama said the "most important lesson" of his first term was that "you can't change Washington from the inside." You need populist pressure from the outside. This was an odd claim on two counts. First, it's not true. His signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was an entirely inside affair, an ugly partisan one involving mercenary horse-trading and countless backroom deals with industry and unions. Second, Obama, the community organizer, always believed salvation lay in organizing a movement. It was the premise at the heart of his 2008 campaign in which he told adoring throngs, "We are the ones we've been waiting for." It says something about Obama's arrogance that his biggest lesson from his first term was that he was right all along.
Still, this conviction led Obama to turn his presidential campaign into a private political army intended to rally his base for his legislative agenda. That effort has failed utterly. Organizing for Action couldn't even organize a congressional vote on gun control, never mind a win.
Cruz's fight to defund Obamacare rests on a similar outsider approach using the Tea Party and allied groups. As he recently told radio host Hugh Hewitt, "The strategy on this all along has been directed not towards Washington but towards the American people. It has been directed towards building a grassroots tsunami."
If Cruz's effort fails -- and I fear it will -- it will be for the same reasons that Obama's second term has been such a legislative dud. The way you bring change to Washington is through elections. After the elections, change comes from the unsightly process of consensus-building (aka sausage-making). Both Cruz and Obama have shown little interest in that approach.
Of course, there are huge differences between Obama and Cruz -- the most important is that they have completely divergent philosophies. That matters most, but it isn't everything. The inside game matters too. Cruz likes pointing out Obama's failures; he should also learn from them.
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