Profiles in Certitude

Profile One—Rich Lowry & Ramesh Ponnuru

Ramesh-Ponnuru0612_rich-lowry-cropDavid French has been a stalwart voice of reason in the debate over the wisdom—or lack thereof—of the strategy adopted by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to force the issue of defunding Obamacare in the Senate. To be honest, he and Andrew C. McCarthy have looked pretty lonely there at National Review Online.

Monday, French’s colleagues Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru penned “Against Despair”, an attempt, I guess, to help us conservatives quit attacking each other and get back together on the same page.

This attempt, alas, didn’t go over well with a number of people, like Erick Erickson of RedState (“The Hungry and the Well Fed”).

As soon as I read Erickson’s piece I tweeted my endorsement:

Today I read French’s thoughtful response to that piece and defense of Lowry’s and Ponnuru’s (“Against Pride”), much of which—as you might expect—I agree with.

But this puzzles me:

As the battle lines are drawn, the two sides (and again, I’m not referring to Rich and Ramesh here — they stated their case the way it should be stated) are often not only taking the position that they’re right, but that they’re certain they’re right, and the other side is not only completely wrong but acting in bad faith.

If you go back to Lowry’s and Ponnuru’s essay, you’ll see the subtitle:

The bad ideas behind the shutdown.

A hint maybe that the kind of certitude French decries may be in the essay despite his assurances?

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Prior to the government shutdown, the House Republican leadership offered a plan to force the Senate to hold a symbolic vote on defunding Obamacare before allowing it to move on to a so-called clean continuing resolution — one, that is, with no anti-Obamacare provisions. The plan was denounced by various conservative groups as a sell-out and caused a revolt in the caucus. A few weeks and a government shutdown later, all Republicans had to show for their trouble was . . . a symbolic vote on defunding and a clean CR. They were back where they had started, only with lower poll numbers and more poisonous divisions.

If someone had missed the intervening weeks, he would have had no idea of the drama and political pain that had ensued before the party accepted a version of the initial unacceptable compromise. From one point of view, the entire episode was all rather pointless; from another it was quite important. It was the latest and most consequential expression of an apocalyptic conservative politics.

It is a politics of perpetual intra-Republican denunciation. It focuses its fire on other conservatives as much as on liberals. It takes more satisfaction in a complete loss on supposed principle than in a partial victory, let alone in the mere avoidance of worse outcomes. It has only one tactic — raise the stakes, hope to lower the boom — and treats any prudential disagreement with that tactic as a betrayal. Adherents of this brand of conservative politics are investing considerable time, energy, and money in it, locking themselves in unending intra-party battle.

The authors continue and, to my mind, do an honest job of catching some of the Tea Party mindset in a helpful way:

The tendency arises from legitimate frustrations. The federal government seems constantly to expand even as — and sometimes because — it proves itself incompetent. Republicans have done precious little to reverse or even halt the trend. Obamacare is a disastrous and unpopular law; but if the Republican party has a strategy for bringing about its eventual end, it has been kept well-hidden.

So it is entirely reasonable to search for new ways to tame the welfare state rather than keep doing what has been done before. The Republican consultant class has often seemed to suffer from an almost clinical deficit of imagination. And the Republican party’s leadership could certainly use the occasional poke with a cattle prod. If the conservatives behind the defunding crusade now turn back to fighting the Senate’s immigration bill with the same passion and commitment, they will again be denounced by Democrats, the press, and some Republicans as a mindless wrecking crew. It shouldn’t stop them.

The key premise that has been guiding these conservatives, however, is mistaken…

Pretty much whatever they say after this, the damage is done.

I remember as I read “Against Despair” how sad I was that two of the major contributors to my own adult crash course in movement conservatism could, at this point, argue from such unwarranted certitude.

They argued as if they’d never read either French’s numerous arguments in favor of the defund strategy, or Andrew C. McCarthy’s brilliant takedown of the “Art of the Possible” argument (“The Art of the Impossible”)—all of which appeared on National Review Online itself.

They were so certain they were right, they didn’t even find it necessary to address their colleagues’ contrary arguments.

I’m sorry. I don’t think this is the best approach—if your motives are actually sincere—to use in bringing all sides together in common cause.

Like this guy says:

Profile Two—Ted Cruz

Question: Did Cruz ever guarantee his gambit would result in the defunding of Obamacare?

Ted CruzGoogle-type tools are pretty much the only ones available to me, and they haven’t helped me locate any time where Ted Cruz is actually quoted guaranteeing his defund strategy would work. At least not in the sense of actually passing a defund bill that the president would then sign.

One of the professional journalists I follow on Twitter helped me out with a reference to Cruz’s statement about a “tsunami” of support from the grassroots.

I located the video of the Candy Crowley interview and, indeed, CNN’s synopsis seemed to indicate he actually did make the promise (Cruz: Not enough votes now for Obamacare shutdown threat):

But the Texas Republican, speaking with CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on “State of the Union,” argued a coming “grass-roots tsunami” would bring over fellow conservatives to his side in the next month.

Trouble is, he didn’t say “would.” He said “could.”

Cruz: I’m convinced there’s a new paradigm in politics, that actually has Washington very uncomfortable. And it has politicians in both parties very uncomfortable. And that new paradigm is the rise of the grass roots, the ability of grass-roots activists to demand of their elected officials they do the right thing. If we see a grass-roots tsunami, that is going to cause Republicans and Democrats to listen to the people.

Crowley: But it’s going to take a tsunami.

Cruz: It is going to take a tsunami and I’m going to everything I can to encourage that tsunami.

Check out the video:

Continuing CNN’s synopsis:

Opponents of Cruz’s effort say he’s risking a government shutdown in order to repeal Obama’s health law, and argue the president would never sign a measure defunding the signature legislation of his five years in office.

But Cruz casts the effort differently: Democrats, he said, would be the ones shutting the government down if they refuse to support a measure that funds all federal programs except Obamacare.

“President Obama, Harry Reid, will scream and holler that the mean, nasty Republicans are threatening to shut down the government. And at that point, Republicans have to do something we haven’t done in a long time – stand up and win the argument,” he said.

Maybe it’s me.

I’m not finding much in the way of certitude there.

And no guarantees.

Just a lot of conviction. Misdirected, some will argue.

But not anything on the order of the certitude aimed at him by his opponents.

Explaining why this is important I’ll leave to my friend Jimmie:


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