The government shutdown taught conservative Americans some useful lessons:
First, it takes guts, so, in order to stand on principle, a Republican officeholder must have some – of both.
Second, the easiest way for a Republican to attract favorable attention from the liberal legacy media is to break with his party.
Finally, the GOP’s biggest problems are big-government, establishment Republicans.
In poker parlance, the House Republicans’ community, or "up" cards included a sensible, publicly-defensible proposal to continue funding the government, delay Obamacare’s troubled individual mandate and deny congressional members and staffs taxpayer-funded Obamacare premium relief unavailable to other Americans.
The strength of the Republicans’ hole cards depended upon united, resolute caucuses in the House and Senate.
The Democrats’ up cards consisted of repeated refusals to negotiate. They didn’t have to, because their hole cards were establishment Republicans.
Experienced poker players watch for the "tell," any physical reaction or behavior that gives (or tells) the watcher information about an opponent’s hands.
Long before the shutdown showdown, Democrats watched establishment Republicans blab the "tell" all over the pages and screens of national media outlets, undermining principled colleagues who were attempting to leverage an already-weak hand to gain some concessions which would at least partially protect current and future taxpayers.
Senator John "Maverick" McCain and long-time sidekick Senator Lindsey Graham, arguably the media’s favorite Republicans, played directly into Democrats’ hands while harvesting the screen time and column inches both covet. Not content to oppose House Republican strategy, they publicly belittled Republican strategists. Though not a majority, they weren’t alone among Senate – or House — Republicans.
Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Allentown, my "local" representative, delivered a similar message. Well in advance of the showdown, Dent announced his desire for a "clean," no-strings spending authorization.
Suddenly popular in the media, Dent made the rounds of the cable news channels. Networks and influential liberal print outlets quoted Charlie at length. The Associated Press and the New York Times News Service got him featured in smaller newspapers all over America. Even posters at hyper-liberal websites such as Daily Kos and Mother Jones approved of Charlie’s "reasonable" position on spending and the debt ceiling.
Dent’s words and image were everywhere. The only things missing were the interests of Charlie’s constituents – or, at least, those who work, pay taxes or someday may.
Incredibly, on Thursday, October 17, the first day the federal government was able to borrow money under the spending and debt ceiling deal that Dent, eighty-four other Republican House members and twenty-five Republican Senators approved, the national debt exploded a record $328 billion. It now tops $17 trillion, an increase of nearly $7 trillion in less than five years.
The shelf-life of good intentions among new legislators seems to be about eight years, after which many, perhaps most of them become part of the problem in government.
An old friend and former legislator who voluntarily left office told me years ago that, once legislators have the job, too many "need" the job and wake up most mornings thinking about what they can do that day to preserve the pay, perks and benefits – or move up the political food chain.
Charlie Dent is 54 years old. He’s been in Congress for nine years. Before Congress, following staff service for a Pennsylvania House member, Charlie spent eight years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and six years in the state Senate.
In other words, for twenty-four or more of thirty-one years since college, Dent has collected paychecks and benefits from taxpayers – and he’s qualified for two public pensions.
Dent is clearly "Establishment."
Because I like him personally, I wouldn’t single him out, but Charlie’s my representative, and he’s symptomatic of a much larger problem. There are too many more like him in Washington.
Although Republicans claim to be (a few are), neither major American political party is really fiscally conservative.
Albeit at more modest levels than today’s Democrats, establishment Republicans’ past majorities have also incurred unnecessary deficits and increased debt.
History suggests that the establishment GOP cannot be trusted to make the tough decisions and pass the difficult measures which have the chance to return America to fiscal health and prosperity, and, unopposed, Democrats won’t even try.
Because third parties are unlikely to succeed in our two-party system, without reforming the GOP, America may never have a conservative party.
Taxpayers in states and districts represented by career politicians — of both parties — would be better served by paying their pensions rather than paying their salaries.