Spoiler Alert: When Congress Comes Marching Home Again Expect Politics Afoot

Posted: Aug 08, 2013 12:01 AM

Ah August. Gideon’s Law is “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” (It’s named after the lawyer, politico, and newspaperman who coined it, Gideon J. Tucker.) This law still is at least as true as it originally was in 1866. August, and with it a Congressional recess, now is upon us. So we can, for a few weeks, let down our guard and open a cold one.

When next September Congress returns, refreshed, all Hell will (appear to) break loose. There are only 9 legislative days in September, with the end of the fiscal year looming.   So … expect it to begin with a portentous swell and staccato rhythm. Cue the 1812 Overture. Forewarned is forearmed so…. consider this column your Secret Decoder Ring for what’s actually going to happen.

Politics, that’s what. There are two political theaters (theaters in both senses of the word) slated for this Fall. One is the debt ceiling fight. The other is repealing Obamacare. The debt ceiling fight will be front and center.

Except… the debt ceiling fight is not really about the debt ceiling.

It’s about the Democrats’ attempt to make the Republicans look bad enough that the Democrats can regain control of the House in 2014. (Statistically, there is little chance of this. But the dreamers at the top of the Democratic Party have a special relationship with reality.)

And the fight over repealing Obamacare is only secondarily about repealing Obamacare.

It’s about the Republicans attempt to wrap that albatross around the Democrats’ necks, making them look bad enough that the Republicans can take control of the Senate in 2014. (The GOP actually has a pretty good chance at this…better even then appeared earlier. Unless, that is, it fumbles the opportunity by failing to execute the elegant strategy mapped out by the shrewd Mitch McConnell. With the GOP’s chronic ineptitude a fumble cannot be ruled out.)

The action, this Fall, is all about prepositioning for the 2014 Hill races. It is hardly at all about “governing” in the conventional meaning of that word. Here’s the largest dose of reality that the FDA reluctantly will allow this columnist to administer:

President Obama is, mainly, going to try to use the debt ceiling fight to threaten the Republicans with the blame for a government shutdown. He will try to force them to pass the tax-and-spending increases presented, disingenuously, as “reform” and “job creation.” Most of the mainstream media will present Obama as being reasonable, conciliatory, and sensible. They will present the Republicans as being obstructionist and reactionary. As Lincoln said, you can fool all of the people some of the time and, as MSNBC has proven decisively, some of the people all of the time.

Obama has been pretty forthright about it. He told his chief admirer Jan Wenner, of Rolling Stone, in a cover interview on April 25, 2012:

“My hope is that if the American people send a message to them that’s consistent with the fact that Congress is polling at 13 percent right now, and they suffer some losses in this next election, that there’s going to be some self-reflection going on – that it might break the fever. They might say to themselves, ‘You know what, we’ve lost our way here. We need to refocus on trying to get things done for the American people.’”

Note on the president’s stated hope that “the American people send a message that’s consistent with the fact that Congress is polling at 13 percent… and they suffer some losses in this next election.” Did not happen. Republicans suffered trivial losses. They retained the majority.

Did the president take the converse of the lesson prescribed for his adversaries?  Don’t be preposterous. The president was expressing an equivalent of the Brezhnev Doctrine, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is up for grabs.” (Didn’t work out particularly well for the Soviet Union. Not likely to work out particularly well for the Democratic Party.)

We mere voters thwarted the president’s yearning for a Democratic Congress in 2012. Yet we voters exist, in this president’s view, only to teach Republicans, never Democrats, a lesson. (When Obamacare cost the Democrats their House majority in 2010 … the Democrats simply doubled down on their Utopian Romantic agenda.)

After his own respectable, though indecisive, re-election victory Barack Obama, as reported by the Huffington Post, stated his desire baldly: ”I actually just want to govern – at least for a couple of years.” “Govern… at least for a couple of years” means that he hopes that the Democrats will take back the House. His party thus controlling the legislature could pave the way for Obama to get enacted his social democratic agenda. To “govern.”

The prospects of the Democrats actually winning a House majority in 2014, of course, are dim. As political analysts Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik observed on March 18th in the Wall Street Journal:

“Since the start of the modern two-party system in the mid-19th century, the party of an incumbent president has never captured control of the House from the other party in a midterm election.”

Instead of politicking Obama, indeed, could govern now. He could work with Republicans to generate faster job growth by seeking at least incremental solutions to reining in spending, lowering confiscatory tax rates, liberalizing job-stifling regulation, and fixing a monetary policy of QEs, Twists and Tapers which resembles nothing so much as a scene from the Mad Tea Party (the one in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland not the one triggered by Santelli’s Rant).

Instead Obama… engages in pure political maneuvering.

To mere citizens — such as this columnist, a Hard Shell Tea Party Patriot — the primary purpose of government is to, well, govern. And … govern well. That means doing things that will make the American people (and world) better off.  Yet many veteran politicos, far more sophisticated than this mere columnist, see this view of governing as naïve literalism. It is akin, in the civic sphere, to that of Biblical literalists in the spiritual. The elite see us as kind of … hick.

Clausewitz famously observed, in On War , that “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses.”

As it happens, most elected officials view government, like Clausewitz viewed war, as “not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument….” So, dear Reader:  when Congress returns … do not misinterpret what will be coming out of Washington as … government.  Politics is afoot. 

We have entered (if we ever left) the era of “the permanent campaign.”   You will be observing nothing more or less than the opening skirmishes of Campaign 2014.

For technical reasons the GOP has a slight edge in the 2014 races — absent the economy unexpectedly reviving notwithstanding continued job-crushing policies… or an international incident that unites America against a foreign aggressor. GOP legislators gamely will be trying to stymie much of the Democrats’ efforts to make government more expensive and more intrusive. The GOP, for all of its many flaws, mostly doesn’t believe that bigger government makes us better off. (Except, of course, the Pentagon. A story for another day.)

Spoiler alert: this Fall the government, at the last possible moment, won’t shut down. This Fall, Obamacare will not be defunded. Stalemate will continue. And, dear Reader, please ignore the nonsense that the state-controlled media will be whispering in your ear  about Congress having accomplished so little.

That’s the liberals’ way to spin how outgunned GOP forces are fighting, admittedly imperfectly yet valiantly, for smaller government.  They are battling Big Brother to a standstill. Gideon’s Law holds. “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” But the House and Senate GOP have had remarkable success in keeping Big Brother’s depredations contained. And the GOP, if it manages to take the Senate majority in 2014, really might be able to get rid of the monstrosity that is Obamacare.

Welcome, then, to the opening of the 2014 election cycle.  Cue the 1812 Overture.