Thomas Sowell
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They say that, in politics, "overnight is a lifetime." In other words, the journey from triumphant hero to discredited scapegoat can be very brief.

In the wake of the Republicans' triumphs in last November's elections, great hopes are being held out that Republican control of the House of Representatives can slam the brakes on Barack Obama's march toward a completely government-controlled economy and ruinous deficit spending.

The first big step toward that goal could be forcing the Obama administration to cut back on spending, as the price of raising the national debt ceiling, which will be necessary early on in this new Congress, if the federal government is not going to be forced to shut down for lack of money.

Much of the runaway spending in Washington has been a spending of money that the government doesn't have in the till, by borrowing money through the sale of government bonds-- in other words, running up a record high national debt.

Because there is a legal limit on how much national debt the government can create, the spending has to be cut back or the debt ceiling increased by Congress. Otherwise, the government is going to have to shut down many of its operations for lack of money.

Some people see this as a golden opportunity for the new Republican majority to gain concessions from the Obama administration, as the price for going along with an increase in the national debt. It sounds logical. But logic is not always the dominant factor in politics.

The last time the government shut down, back during the Clinton administration, the Republicans were riding high as a result of their capture of the House of Representatives-- where all spending bills must originate-- for the first time in decades.

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich seemed to hold all the high cards. But the government shutdown ruined Republicans politically.

Congress had increased the amount of money appropriated for the government to spend, though not by as much as President Clinton wanted. So it was Clinton who shut down the government, though it was the Republicans who got blamed.

Sometimes it doesn't matter who holds the high cards, if the other side plays their cards better.

Today, the Republicans don't hold as many high cards as they did back during the Clinton administration. How did they lose then -- and what are their chances of losing now, if they try to force serious concessions from the administration, and Obama calls their bluff by daring them to shut down the government?

Often, in politics, it doesn't matter what the facts are. What matters is how well you make your case to the voting public.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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