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September 30. 2013 5:28PM

David Harsanyi: It's OK when Democrats, but not Republicans, take hostages

When Sen. Ted Cruz rolled out an epic 21-hour anti-Obamacare "filibuster," his efforts were ridiculed by journalists across the Twitterverse as a useless exercise in would-be obstructionism. No surprise there.

The New York Times editorial board joined in, spitting out an angry editorial accusing Cruz of employing an "aimless and self-destructive Tea Party strategy" — an egomaniacal attempt to cash in on the impulses of misguided conservatives. However hopeless a liberal cause may be (gun control, cap and trade, Wendy Davis — take your pick), it's always a worthy idealistic pursuit. Conservatives in uphill fights, on the other hand, are likelier to be fanatics or money-grubbing frauds; the Times can't seem to decide.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor, as well, and declared Cruz's efforts a waste of time, unpacking his standard lament about the lack of compromise in Washington. Reid reminisced about the early 1980s, offering a personal story about a Republican who had helped him feel more comfortable when he first arrived in Washington. If only today's "anarchists" (his description) were half as cooperative, we'd really get stuff done.

Well, believe it or not, compromise isn't a holy sacrament. It's not a mitzvah. It's not particularly inspiring to voters. Politics is the art of compromising as little as possible, really.

So though conservatives may be fumbling for a plausible plan to deal with Obamacare, the contention that they're more ideologically inflexible than their opponents is preposterous. The only thing more preposterous is the idea that Cruz's crusade will hurt them.

But that's not the only myth. In a recent exchange on "Real Time with Bill Maher," panelists went a few rounds on the GOP's strategy for the upcoming budget showdowns (wily anarchists or slack-jawed yokels?) and talked about the pros and cons of "hostage taking" before MSNBC's Chris Hayes chimed in with a pretty revealing comment, saying, "I think it is useful to separate the kind of tactical question here from the substantive one, which is to say, like, you know, if there were a liberal caucus in the United States government that could, you know, hold the continuing resolution hostage to try to stop a war that I thought was horrible, I would say, 'Yeah, do it.' The thing that they're trying to stop here is 30 million people getting health insurance!"

It's the substantive question liberals have a problem with these days, not the tactical one.

A potential shutdown over the continuing resolution or the debt ceiling would be fine if the issue happened to move the liberal soul. But Republicans can't possibly have a legitimate reason to want to defund/delay/defeat/de-anything Obamacare. The GOP opposes the law because of an insatiable impulse to deny millions of poor Americans health insurance. If Hayes were to concede that genuine objections existed — however misguided he might find them — he'd also be conceding that conservatives have a purpose beyond his own cartoon depiction of free market beliefs.

In this cartoon, Republicans are obstructionists, and that's that. When Reid says any Republican House budget he dislikes is "dead on arrival," how many nonpartisan publications will call him out on his uncompromising position? When the President states that negotiating with Republicans over the debt ceiling "is not going to happen," how many reporters are going to point out that his stubbornness could lead to a government shutdown?

But one of the remarkable and most often overlooked aspects of this debate is that it revolves around perhaps the least cooperative piece of major legislation in American history, Obamacare. Shouldn't those who idealize the D.C. bargain be concerned that a single party took control of a significant chunk of the American economy and compelled every family and business in the nation to participate without a shred of support from the minority party? Even the wing-we-can-get-behind of the Senate — the John McCains of the world -- weren't on board. Talk about a hostage crisis.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.


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