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What would Russell Kirk say during Shutdown Week?

Here we are: Government Shutdown Week, a new biannual tradition. If you're just tuning in, the House Republicans are holding the global economy hostage unless President Obama repudiates the Affordable Care Act, his administration's signature domestic policy achievement.

That law was passed by Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Its passage was not a surprise to anyone paying attention, having been preceded by very open debate going back decades. Its basic principles were developed by a conservative think tank, a similar plan was tried at the state level by a Republican governor of a large state, and its details were debated repeatedly in the Democratic primaries of 2008. It was debated so much during those debates that most viewers were bored. Everyone watching knew that a Democratic president would seek health care reform. Most people thought it would be more left-wing than the final product. Far from being "pushed through" or "rammed through" or whatever other tyrannical metaphor one might choose, the road to the Affordable Care Act was in reality a model of procedural governance in a modern democracy.

A small band of Republicans now will shutdown the government because they are mad that they lost. But they are pitching it as a prophetic action to call attention to the federal government's spending problem. The problem with that analysis of the spending problem is that deficits have been going down under Obama (handy charts here). A further problem is that not raising the debt ceiling will have no effect on any of the issues that they want to address. It won't change the prior commitments Congress has made, in terms of expenses or revenues.

This morning Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution offered an utterly clear analysis in the New York Times of what this week brings: the House Republicans are forcing the President to break the law. He has to -- it's just a matter of which law. He breaks a law by autocratically raising taxes against the will of Congress, stopping payments legislated by Congress, or borrowing money against the will of Congress. Aaron says the choice is clear: he must disregard the debt ceiling. It's the least dangerous option for the global economy.

The only defensible option for the president if the debt ceiling is not raised is to disregard the debt ceiling. The action would be unconstitutional because it would be illegal. Financial markets might react negatively, but not nearly so negatively as if the United States failed to redeem bonds or to pay interest on its debt.

The president would be attacked. He might even be impeached by the House. But maybe not: the House would then be saying that the president should have illegally failed to pay F.B.I. agents, or school districts, or Medicare doctors. In any case, he would not be convicted by the Senate. And he would have saved the nation from much agony.

Disregarding the debt ceiling would have one additional, thoroughly benign effect. It would end the capacity of Congressional minorities to precipitate crises in order to accomplish goals for which they lacked the votes. Today, a minority is holding hostage all federal programs in an attempt to eviscerate a law that Congress passed, the president signed and the Supreme Court upheld — the Affordable Care Act. In the future, an imaginative and irresponsible minority could use the threat not to raise the debt ceiling for any purpose — to shape tax policy, or foreign policy, or civil rights policy.

The actions of the Radical Prophets caucus of the House GOP have even caused yet another of the conservative opinion-makers to consider defecting from the party. David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, famously did so in 2011, and many others have in the past few years. It's a kind of intellectual "brain drain" from the party, which is a tragic thing to watch.

Now popular author and blogger Rod Dreher (The American Conservative, a great publication by the way), while certainly not a party-line Republican, mind you, has also become exasperated because of Shutdown Week.

They are a barking-mad pack of ideologues, is what they are. I haven’t written much about the Obamacare thing because I don’t follow policy closely. As far as I know, Obamacare is a bad idea. But here’s the thing: it’s the law. It was passed, signed by the president, and upheld in the Supreme Court. There is no way the House Republicans, or Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, is going to overturn it. The best they can do is to delay it. And then what? Guess what: the 2012 elections were their last, best chance to overturn Obamacare, and the country didn’t go for it.

He quotes conservative luminary Russell Kirk on the cardinal virtue of conservatism: prudence.

Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

But the current display is reckless, the opposite of prudence. Dreher concludes:

The Republicans cannot govern. These people aren’t conservatives. They are radicals. What on earth would Russell Kirk say if he were alive to see this?

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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I told a friend recently that if this were, say, 1856, the Republican Party would pretty much dissolve itself and two or three new parties would spring up to try to capture a critical mass of voters.  Is it possible that, in 2013, the GOP is close to an irrevocable crack-up?

I think the larger problem is that too few people who support the House's Hell No! Caucus have read Kirk or could recognize his name.

Here is George Will in 1984:

Which is more amusing, the number of Marxists who have never cracked a volume of Das Kapital, or the number of today's soi-disant conservatives who have been so busy praising Burke that they have not taken the time to read, or at least comprehend him?  It is perhaps marvelous that people who preach disdain for government can consider themselves the intellectual descendants of Burke, the author of a celebration of the state.  But surely it is peculiar--worse, it is larcenous--for people to expropriate the name "conservative" while remaining utterly unsympathetic to the central tenet of the greatest modern conservative.

Thirty years later, we've gone several steps farther down this ugly road.  Forget Burke, forget Kirk.  Something calling itself conservatism today has become merely the negation of political ideas.  Politics presumes community.  Conservatism presumes community.  All now is egoism.

I would not be in favour of a government shut down if I were in that caucus for the reason mentioned above. It was passed legally, debated at the presidential level and the president one so the will of the people, inasmuch as the AFHA was passed needs to be respected.

I do understand the concern and I would have much preferred a government run single payer system paid for by the federal government through tax revenue than forcing private people into the private run insurance market. I see that as problematic and it will be difficult to control rates, fees, and scheduling costs.

Chief Justice Roberts argued that the individual mandate is actually a "tax" which is a stretch on the definition of "tax" but whatever - 5 - 4 and it is in.

That said, if the Republicans really feel, in conscience, that this is wrong public policy, they are perfectly within their rights to use every democratic means at their disposal to change it. The Democrats could have done that when they controlled some of the chambers during the Iraq wars.

I think prudence dictates that all parties sit down and try to hash this out responsibly. The blame game is not constructive or helpful. Ensure that essential services like medicare and social security are funded and discuss how to make this work in everybody's interest.

My understanding is, and I do not follow it closely, is that Obama has delayed the implementation of some of it already for certain sectors so it is not like the law is being rolled out as originally passed anyway!

George D. So what you are advising is that people cater to those who want to break the law. Like all new things the Affordable Care Act will have to work out its kinks. But to get away from the FACT that this is blatantly political is to miss the point . This is just the like the Kenneth Starr fiasco which was to bring down the president. At that time Congressman Henry Hyde, that hypocritical  favorite of Catholic bishops, shamelessly acted like he was serving the country in his assault on the president. Notwithstanding his "youthful indiscretions." These guys lost the election. How clear is that!

Now we have Ted Cruz who has the best health coverage in the country via his wife who is a banker for Goldman Sachs. Why should he care about others. 


A certain objectivity seems to be breaking out among some of the younger conservatives.  Here's Rod Dreher commenting on the Republicans in the House:


"They are a barking-mad pack of ideologues, is what they are."


But in spite of this latter day awakening of some Republicas, things remain scary.  Here's Paul Krugman on the grim consequences if the U. S. is forced to slash spending:



"If the feds are forced to slash spending, one way or another (and probably semi-randomly) to match receipts, that’s about $600 billion in cuts at an annual rate, or 4 percent of GDP. That’s a huge case of unintended austerity, quite aside from the disruptions, surely enough to push us back into recession if it lasts for any length of time.

"And a double-dip recession would, in turn, push back the date of Fed rate increases far into the future, which would normally cause a big drop in long-term rates.

"So I’m not at all sure that we’re looking at an interest rate spike; maybe even the opposite.

"But for sure we should be looking at a plunging dollar, and probably carnage in the stock market too."

Thanks - interesting.

My only reservation is quoting Rod Dreher - here is his latest in his on-going journery towards maturity:

Dreher needs a few years of psycho-analysis.  His approach to any form of organized religion is to try to fit the church into his self-defined spirituality box.  So much for what Jesus said in his parables; so much for any adult notion of *metanoia* or *conversion* in which God calls or invites; and we respond.

Dreher - seems to be on a constant search for a new religion, church, etc.  His conversion to catholicism didn't last long...he says because of sexual abuse (and, fact check, he did not reveal any abuse - he merely copied and repeated what his colleagues at the Dallas Morning News were investigating).  He then knee jerked to a small, weird catholic monastic group in south Texas - which, in a matter of months, was rocked by multiple abuse convictions from the prior on down.  So much for Dreher's powers of discernment. 

Now is no longer catholic but hey - he criticizes certain homilies for being too therapeutic...but his negative reactions sound more like his focus in masochistic; he needs some type of *parent* to threaten him with punishment or he is unable to have faith; he sees faith as a set of rules, punishments, etc.  (following Fowler's Stages of Faith - Dreher is stuck on level three or four - equivalent of an 8th grade or early high school understanding of faith - no internal direction; has to be focused from the outside.  Notice he never mentions anything to do with mission, service, social justice, etc.  It is all about personal sin.

Really, what his writings remind me of is someone laying on a couch during a psychoanalysis and his stream of consciousness ramblings.

Can't believe folks actually pay him for his opinions.

Yellow dog democrat though I be, (even when exasperated at times when I want the Dems to be more progressive,) I do think there's a need for a sane and responsible conservative voice in US politics. Where are the fiscal conservatives? Has the unholy selling-out of the conservative movement to the social-issues rightwingers (and their foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Party progeny,) doomed the GOP as a party capable of participating in governance?

Boehner can end this simply with a vote in the House on the Senate bill, yes? Wouldn't the sane Republicans with the Deomcrats outnumber the extremists? Hastert rule be damned...

And who will hold the extremists to account for the enormous financial costs of defaulting on the debt, should it come to that? For the stalling or reversal of the recovery that might ensue? Besides us Dems, that is...

And wouldn't this be a great opportunity for centrist Dem's to run lots of ads in Tea Party country, telling folks just how much their GOP House reps are costing us all? 


Let me note a couple of things and make a comment, then I'll retire so as not to get too splattered by rotten tomatoes.

My first note is this editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Without endorsing its policy recommendation - for the record, I oppose shutting down the government - the litany of ObamaCare issues and perverse incentives that it compiles does not bode well for a good first impression of the insurance exchanges.

My second note is to address a common meme.  It is often pointed out, semi-rightly, that Republicans should accept ObamaCare because Republicans lost the 2012 election.  But there is also a sense in which Republicans won the right to stop ObamaCare because Republicans won the 2012 election.  Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Darrell Issa and all of the other House GOP stalwarts whom y'all just love to hate and despise are answerable only to their constituents in their tiny little districts.  And presumably they are doing their constituents' bidding.  There is a very real sense in which Republican intrasigence toward ObamaCare is a direct function of intrasigence toward ObamaCare on the part of a very big part of the electorate.

My comment is that both of the things I note here are haunted by the legislative process that created ObamaCare.  A straight-party vote for social legislation this momentous could only sow seeds of discord, obstructionism and political exploitation for many years to come - and everyone on both sides of the aisles in both chambers of Congress knew this.  But they passed it anyway on straight party votes.  And now we're starting to see some of the fruits of that foolish process, before ObamaCare really even gets up and running.  Those issues chronicled by the Review-Journal are amenable to legislative correction - if the legislature has the will to correct them; but manifestly it doesn't.  Those obstructionist GOP House members are vulnerable to voter backlash in House elections next year - if voters in districts held by GOP members have the will to send their current representatives packing.  A long and painful government shutdown may bring that about, but history tells us that nearly all incumbents are re-elected, and many districts are gerrymandered to ensure that outcome.


"On January 1, the subsidies are scheduled to kick in. And President Obama's strategy is very simple. He wants to get as many Americans as possible addicted to the subsidies, addicted to the sugar because he knows that, in modern times, no major entitlement has been implemented and then unwound." Ted Cruz to Rush Limbaugh. He used the same addiction metaphor in an interview with Sean Hannity. What Republicans like Cruz really fear isn't that the Affordable Care Act won't work, but that it will. The Ted Cruzes of yesteryear were against Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. (They're still trying to cut Medicaid and food stamps, because those programs are for poor people and not a lot of poor people vote Republican.)

Jim Pauwels is right to lament that the ACA passed on a straight-party vote, wrong to suggest that this is the Democrats' fault. As Michael points out in his post, "Obamacare" was an idea first proposed by conservatives and supported by Republican lawmakers as an alternative to some kind of single-payer plan. The GOP started hating the idea the moment Obama picked it up and actually tried to make it work. There are two possible interpretations of this sequence of events: Either Republicans really would like Obamacare if only it weren't associated with Obama—because they hate him more than they like their own proposal—or they never really liked the proposal but were only pretending to so that they wouldn't appear to be empty-handed when they bitched about the menace of socialized medicine.


The Kenneth Starr fiasco actually had a factual basis. Whatever you think of Paula Jones's sexual harrasment lawsuit (or sexual harrassment laws in general), she had, at a minimum, the right to a fair, transparent, hearing of relevant facts. Lewinsky was one of those facts that the judge felt permissable and Clinton, when asked, committed perjury. When this was discovered as opposed to taking responsibility, Clinton said "prove it". So Starr did. 

You might not like the sordid details but that is the way sexual harrasment and sexual kinds of criminal proceeedings work. It was never about adultery (plenty of cheaters and perverts in congress and elsewhere - as long as they are not harming children or impacting other what do we care), it was about perjury and I don't think we can build a system where the powerful get to lie with impunity even if the lie is in relation to a dodgy, at best, sexual harrasment suit from Paula Jones

Yes, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. But the Republicans are not acting illegally. They are acting within their power. As I said, I think it is wrong because it is an act that was passed legitimately. But they are acting using whatever levers they have available. They can be shamed, they can be ridiculed but until they are actually voted out of office by their consituents, we can assume that they are, in fact, representing their constituents as Jim said. That is their job.

But it is an academic point for me. I am troubled by the two tiered health care system in the US. As I said, the solution, is a government run health care system to make sure it is fair for everyone and not just those with the means to afford care.


All members of Congress swear to uphold the laws.  The Constitution requires that the House shall initiate the funding of duly enacted laws.  Obamacare is a duly enacted law, and the members of Congress who refuse to fund it are thereby breaking their oaths by not upholding the Constitution.  That is sedition by omission.  Recall them.

Jim Pauwels is right to lament that the ACA passed on a straight-party vote, wrong to suggest that this is the Democrats' fault.

Well, inasmuch as they actually wrote, passed and signed the darned thing, I think they deserve at least some of the credit.  

Having said that, Senate Democrats did attempt in good faith to build a bipartisan consensus around what eventually became ObamaCare - there was some bipartisan Gang Of X (sorry, can't remember if it was 8, 9 or some other number).  I believe that some of the conservative-originating features of what is now ObamaCare were built into the Senate bill to make it palatable to Republicans.  My recollection is that after many months of negotiating, Baucus and the other Democrats decided that the Republicans weren't operating in good faith.  (I believe the Republican senators would retort that they heard from their constituents).  And at that time, the House had passed its own plan that still seemed viable (and which was more to the White House's liking, if I'm not mistaken).  The expectation was that some conference committeeing would marry the two bills.  Scott Brown's special election screwed up a lot of plans.

FWIW,  I don't believe the  GOP as a whole was ever very serious about running with health care reform as federal legislation.  And more importantly, the GOP has changed since the days of GWB's compassionate conservatism.  Some of Republican opposition to ObamaCare is Obama Derangement Syndrome, but more fundamentally, the GOP - or at least wide swaths of it - has become rabidly anti-government.  This configuration of Republicans in the House and Senate wouldn't pass the Bush Medicare prescription drug plan, either.  




Re : the law

I just tuned in to CNN and some Republican commentators claim that Obama actually delayed the implementation of the employer side of the mandate even though that was in the legislation. The Repubs claim that they are just asking the individual mandate be given the same deferrment. And surprisingly to me, this whole thing does not even apply to members of Congress. They opted out! LOL 

Plus then there is this interesting side debate around whether the executive branch can change legislation (they are supposed to execute legislation)

What a mess!!

FWIW, I think this whole individual mandate is foolish. Completely unenforceable. Who is going to "fine" people if they do not have health care (emergency rooms?). And what if they don't pay...then what? Bottom line is that one way or the other the government is going to be paying for people's health care if they can't afford it. Might as well just face reality and expand medicare.

George D, --

If someone doesn't have insurance the hospitals will be able to refuse them care, won't they?  And won't that force compliance when the word gets out that you really need insurance to be treated in a hospital?

Who is going to "fine" people if they do not have health care (emergency rooms?). And what if they don't pay...then what? Bottom line is that one way or the other the government is going to be paying for people's health care if they can't afford it.

If you can't prove you have a health-insurance policy when you file your income taxes, then you pay a penalty. The government uses some of that money to reimburse hospitals for treatment of the uninsured. "Completely unenforceable," says George. How does George know?

I agree with George that it would have been more rational to expand Medicare so that it covers everyone, but such a plan would have gored too many oxes. If our irrational, complicated health-care system costs too much, it's because powerful interests are profiting from it, and they aren't about to surrender their profit without a fight—a fight that, in our current political climate, they'd almost certainly win. A single-payer plan would mean the disappearance, or at least the drastic diminishment, of the private health insurance industry. Does George imagine this multi-billion dollar industry was ever going to volunteer for extinction?


By law, er rooms must treat people who come in. The billing is figured out later. For alternative care, they might be referred to their GP which would be through a clinic and here someone would need insurance.


i worked for years with people if not on the streets close to it. Few were organized enough to even fill our or have someone fill out income tax. Mind you, most of these were on government disability so even in the US they would be covered. But there is a large swath of the population, the working poor, who will not be able to afford insurance. And my hunch is that these working poor are fairly disorganized and it would not be unusual for them to not fill out income tax. And I bet that they might be higher end users (less education, poverty and other social determinants of health issues)

When I worked in health care, and this is in Canada with "socialized" medicine, there was a big push on containing costs. A big part of that involved inventorying who were going to be the largest users. The stat I recall was that 20 percent use of eighty percent of the money. So who are your high end users and how can you reduce er visits and other uses of the system. Complicated for sure.

The problem with private insurance is that you need a wide pool of customers to offset the increasing demands of the few. But I just don't see the math working out so rates somehow are going to have to be raised and it is going to be unaffordable. That is already happening so employers asked for deferment as they just cannot afford it. It will be even worse when it hits the individual.

If you want universal coverage you need everyone sharing the costs to that those who are infrequent users offset the cost for the rest. The simplest and most efficient way for this to occur is through taxation as that is the only way you can be absolutely certain that revenues come in. That might mean federal sales tax or other kinds of taxes on tobacco and alcohol. 

George ,

Starr and the gang sought out Paula Jones. That is the point. 


The very poor, including most people living on the streets, already qualify for Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, more of the working poor will also qualify for Medicaid. (If not Medicare for all, why not Medicaid for more?) You write, "If you want universal coverage you need everyone sharing the costs to that those who are infrequent users offset the cost for the rest." This is precisely why there is an individual mandate, enforced through the tax code. The enforcement won't be perfect, though it will no doubt improve over time. But perfection is the wrong measure. This law will make it possible for many more people to get health insurance, and it will distribute the expense associated with unforseeable illness more equitably. You think a tax-funed single-payer system would do this better; so do I. But a system that uses tax penalties to get as many people on board as possible is a step in the right direction, and probably the biggest step we could take given the political circumstances.

Jim P - to take a few examples of gerrymandering and drawing district lines in various states:

- Michigan - total Democratic votes last election exceeded total Republican votes by more than 1/2 million;  yet, Republicans picked up more than twice as many house seats

This pattern can be found in probably 20 other states. (so, yes, you cite this to a degree but to say that the Republicans won the 2012 election....that is a stretch that needs to be nuanced.  In fact, the Democratic candidate for president won re-election (that seems to say just as much about the validity of the Affordable Care Act and Democrats actually won a couple of more Senate seats)

So, the election that determined this mess was in 2010 - that allowed for majority Republican states to redraw districts and gerrymand.

Some other points of fact - currently 50% of all Republican House members have been in the House only since 2010 or 2012.  They were elected from these heavily anglo (average 75% anglo) and conservatice, gerrymandered districts.  What is interesting about these facts is that indicates the level of inexperience among Republican House members; something like 80% were not in the House during the last federal government shut down.

So, to describe this as an overwhelmingly majority movement doesn't fit the facts.  Fact - we have a small group (est. 40-50 Republican members) dictating to the House which is only about 15% of the House; and the House is only 1/3 of the government - Executive, Senate, House.

Senate passed a budget bill 6 months ago and Boehner has refused to appoint conference folks to work with a Senate conference.  Oh yeah, Boehner just did that at 11PM EST on 9/30/13.

Please.....legislative process......happened per the rules from 2008 until 2011 with the advent of the Tea Party.  Facts - compare the significant legislation that was passed in 2009/2010 and compare to what the House has passed in the last two years.....sort of like 50 to zero.


Bill Mazzella:

Bill Clinton was convicted of perjury and disbarred for a year or so.  He looked into a TV camera and lied to the American people, to his wife, and to his daughter.  He subjected his wife and daughter to emotional devastation, and when the blue dress made it's appearance it was all over.

But Hollywood loved it, all of it.  The libertine blowflies of the entertainment industry love Bill's kind of guy; he's so human don't you know?  Starr was appointed by Democrats, and he simply pursued the evidence, and now you glorify Clinton and vilify Starr.  You're upside down on this, Bill.

All this shutdown talk is overshadowing that this is a momentous day: the health care exchanges are open (or are supposed to be).  I'm currently on another tab in my browser, going into (the health care exchange URL for residents of Illinois and many (all?) other states) to get an idea of what the user experience is like.  Right now, I'm getting a message, "The System is down at the moment".  But that's the kind of thing that is fixable.

Michael Barone compares and contrasts the straight-party-line passage of Obamacare with the process that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Jim P_ - interesting article by Barone.  Think he has missed many other points of fact.

Comparing Congress 1964 to Congress 2013 - vastly different with different rules, processes, etc.

He also downplays the impact of LBJ who arm twisted and threatened southern democrats to back civil rights legislation.  Obama tried to play this role during the passage of Obamacare but Republicans had closed their minds. (and it is ironic that most of the foundations of Obamacare came from or started with Republicans and then you have Massachusetts and a Republican governor)

Then, you have to compare LBJ to Obama - again, there is little comparison if for no other reason than that most House Republicans will not even consider listening or negotiating with Obama - their minds are made up.

Again, district drawings/gerrymandering have completely shifted the alliances of the House (nothing like it in 1964)....and it leaves Obama with little to negotiate and no ability to threaten (they have safe seats no matter how egregious their behaviors or votes).

Finally, Barone spends paragraphs on how certain political figures eventually mellowed or became reconciled.  But, he ignores the fact that LBJ's methods led to 50 years of southern states going Republican after 100 years being Democratic.  Skipping over this fact alone makes his article a *suspect* comparison.  Part of the trouble today is because of the political fall out over the civil rights act and LBJ's methods.


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