Tea Party supporters are supposed to be disheartened by how the great shutdown saga turned out. We're back where we started, following an expense of political capital that achieved nothing, with polls showing damage to the Republican "brand." Worse, the balance of power in our representative government has permanently shifted toward the executive branch. The legislature is now virtually powerless. Raising the debt ceiling is a hollow ritual to be performed every few months. Continuing resolutions to fund the no-budget government will continue, on automatic pilot, forever. The House will never dare exert its entirely hypothetical "power of the purse" again.
The oversight functions of the legislature aren't looking too healthy, either. They hold hearings that never go anywhere, at which Administration officials feel no compulsion to speak honestly, if they even bother to show up. Documents demanded by House committees languish in bureaucratic dungeons for years. Every investigation is stonewalled until the media can declare it "old news."
The short attention span of the electorate limits the shelf life of every scandal to a news cycle or two. The concept of "responsibility" is now limited to the President or one of his cabinet members intoning the magic words, "I take responsibility" after weeks of foot-dragging. No one is ever held accountable for anything. Top officials from the White House on down cheerfully admit their enormous departments are completely out of control - they learn about scandals by watching the TV news, just like you and me.
Certainly all of that is terrible and infuriating... but dispiriting to the Tea Party? Nonsense. Everything that happened over the past few weeks has been pure vindication for them.
They knew things were this bad. That's why they got involved in politics, often for the first time in a long and full life. Any disappointment they might feel is tempered by the understanding that their task would not be easy. They're up against a system, not a few individual politicians, or even a political party, although one of the parties is more strongly aligned with the system. No one involved in the Tea Party movement was ever under any illusions that the other party was entirely opposed to it. If only that were true.
The system has been growing larger, and more corrupt, for a very long time. Power and money have been squirreled away in the dark corners of bureaucratic mazes for decades. The system can defend itself from assault. It has many private-sector supporters, who grow very wealthy by manipulating it. There are many people on the lower end of the income scale who consider themselves beneficiaries of the system's generosity as well. They're not much concerned with the problems encountered by other people, or worried about fiscal crises in the years to come. Rent-seeking business interests, plus dependent citizens eager to claim what they are "entitled" to, plus a political class that cloaks its greed in the language of compassion, plus a partisan media that loves the idea of the nation's destiny being written right outside their office windows, make up a powerful political army. The original Tea Party revolutionaries knew they faced a formidable opponent. So do their namesakes.
What is that formidable opponent saying in "victory" today? The shutdown crisis decisively ended because we were about to hit the debt ceiling. The President assured us that if we don't borrow more money, we won't be able to pay our existing bills - it's one of his most frequently repeated arguments. If the federal government doesn't borrow $3 billion or more a day, forever, the markets will panic and the economy will collapse. Our whole system is now based on rolling up gigantic amounts of debt at low, low interest rates, and we cannot consider any course of action that would jeopardize those cheap loans, or we'll end up paying what President Obama referred to as the "Republican default tax" earlier this week.
What sane person celebrates such conditions? Why should any American taxpayer applaud the "triumph" of that philosophy? Who thinks it's a good idea to restrict our options as a nation because we can't afford to do anything that would make the people holding our debt leash nervous?
Throughout the shutdown, we watched the government go to war against disobedient Americans, inflicting needless inconvenience and loss of revenue through Obama's Shutdown Theater antics. An army of federal employees appeared out of nowhere to erect barricades. Elderly war veterans were abused for having the temerity to visit an open-air memorial constructed in their honor. Some of the activities canceled during the shutdown - from air shows to popular inns and restaurants - were revenue generators, unnecessarily costing private sector owners and employees millions of dollars.
But all we heard about when the government re-opened were whoops of joy about non-essential federal employees returning to work and collecting back pay. Five years of Obama have beaten the private-sector workforce down to 1960s levels, with full-time jobs melting into a part-time slurry, but nobody in the government cares about that. They won't be getting reinstated with back pay, unless you count unemployment benefits and food stamps.
The ruling class loves to say job creation is their top priority, but that's obviously not true - there are dozens of priorities well ahead of that, currently including a plan to import even more citizens to compete for scarce entry-level jobs - a "reform" the ruling class prizes above almost everything else, even though it barely cracks the top ten list of issues the American electorate is concerned with.
But hey, let's applaud the return of hundreds of thousands of expensive federal employees, many of whom we didn't notice were missing. Some of them really weren't literally non-essential... but many of them were. Shutting down 17 percent of the government is a crude way to trim it back, much as the sequester was. There are smarter ways to implement cuts... but the smarter ways never get implemented, do they? We are expected to celebrate the triumph of a system that has once again proved itself utterly impervious to anything but the crudest forms of discipline, and even those tend to work only temporarily. The sequester might not be around for much longer, either.
That shutdown deal was no "clean" bill, by the way. Among the other things it contained was a "gift" of $174,000 to the widow of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. "It’s been a tradition to pay a year’s congressional salary as a death benefit to the spouse of a lawmaker who dies in office," the Wall Street Journal reports.
What a lovely tradition. Lautenberg was one of the richest members of Congress at the time of his death, with a net worth of over $56 million. On the other hand, the Obama Administration just kinda sorta "forgot" to pay death benefits to the families of fallen military veterans, even though Congress passed a bill to ensure it before the shutdown. They had to pass another bill to shame the Administration into action. The ruling class takes very good care of itself. No wonder most of the people plugged into such a lucrative system are ready to protect it. The Tea Party view that the suckers paying for it should be less than thrilled has only been strengthened by Shutdown Theater, which will be remembered at 2014 election rallies.
We were told we couldn't delay restarting the government and funding everything on the statist wish list, because fiscal catastrophe could not be held at bay for another day. Funny thing - in the two days since the shutdown ended, the national debt shot up over $360 billion, exploding past $17 trillion for the very first time. According to the official figures, the debt hadn't increased by a penny for months beforehand. It's remarkable how those numbers dance to any tune our ruling class chooses to play.
To top it off, yesterday we heard the President who repeatedly tried to panic the stock market, to build up his negotiating leverage against Republicans, lecture us about "manufactured crisis." When was the last Washington crisis that wasn't manufactured, or at least given some enhancements and upgrades before it rolled off the political production line?
Remember how President Obama said we had to surrender control of our health care because over 50 million people were dying for want of health insurance? Where did all those people go? Because they sure as hell aren't rushing to sign up for ObamaCare. And the feeble capabilities of the system Obama blew hundreds of millions of dollars creating suggest he never really expected anything close to such demand.
The President has also been taunting his opponents that they need to "win some elections" if they want to bring his irresponsible and wasteful policies to heel... as if the House and Senate Republicans who stood up against the ObamaCare disaster hadn't won elections, as if Republicans didn't take the House in a historic 2010 victory fueled by Tea Party enthusiasm. That's an offense against the very concept of representative government, which is not defined as electing a despot every four years and obeying his commands until the next opportunity to replace him arises. It's also not supposed to be necessary to win veto-proof super-majorities in order to make ourselves heard.
All of this vindicates the critique of kamikaze Big Government that brought the Tea Party together in the first place. We're being told we have to accept all sorts of things we never voted for. We're told we cannot change course - we don't even get to vote on major aspects of our national destiny any more, let alone pursue our own ambitions. The dead hand of the past guides us through programs that cannot be repealed, mandates that cannot be resisted, and a government that can't be scaled back insulting us as deadbeats if we hesitate to pay its bills.
It doesn't matter if its big plans are unmitigated disasters, sold with false claims and empty promises, cobbled together by committee and farmed out to cronies. One of the major reasons ObamaCare's launch has been such a disaster is that its implementation was deliberately held off until the last possible minute, with warnings of catastrophe suppressed, to avoid embarrassment during the 2012 election. The Healthcare.gov website is a paralyzed mass of sloppy code that was deliberately designed not to let you shop for insurance plans unless it could harvest enough information to calculate your middle-class welfare subsidies and conceal the true cost of your purchase.
The whole thing is a scam, top to bottom... but your complaints fall on deaf ears, your participation is required by law, and you may rest assured that the software to administer your unconstitutional tax/penalty for non-compliance will work flawlessly. No delays, no refunds, no accountability, no escape. It's all the "settled law of the land," unlike far older laws passed under much less dubious circumstances, which the ruling class constantly ignores.
We're always told not to trust "lobbyists" and "special interests" who use political influence for selfish ends. Well, everyone who profits from this bloated, dangerously underfunded, spendthrift government is acting selfishly when they protect it, while senators and representatives with a sincere desire for reform would be depriving themselves of money and power by succeeding.
The shutdown didn't bring the reforms we were hoping for, but at least people did stand up this time. It wasn't just a bunch of empty talk and promises to put up a bit of resistance during the next budget battle, or maybe the one after that, or perhaps a few elections from now. There is a significant element of the current political class that was willing to stick to their guns, make some difficult votes, take some heat, and stand by their principles even after failing to get what they wanted. It's too bad there aren't more of them... but maybe there could be. It takes a lot of hard work, organization, spirit, and time to generate a political class willing to vote against its own collective interests, by reducing its power. That sounds more like a challenge than cause for despair.