President Obama beat the Republican Party on the debt ceiling and government shutdown by having the better line. PHOTO: Reuters
It ain’t over till it’s over, but it sure seems like Obama and the Democrats beat Boehner and the Republicans on the twin fights of the debt ceiling and the government shutdown. Republican Party poll numbers have tanked, their demands are shrinking, and it looks more and more like the debt ceiling will be raised and the government shutdown will end without any real concessions from Democrats. The reason is simple: Obama had the better slogan.
When the Republican Party rallied around the Tea Party idea of causing a government shutdown if Obamacare was not defunded, John Boehner explained it this way: “The American people don't want the president's health care bill, and they don't want the government to shut down. Republicans are listening.”
It’s true that Americans didn’t want their government to shutdown, and that the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, does not poll well, but what polls even worse is coupling those two things. Only 27% of Americans favored pairing shutting down the government with defunding Obamacare. Boehner kept using that line, but it never got any more convincing.
Here was how Obama responded to Boehner and the Republican Party: "One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election."
Obama delivered that line on the eve of the government shutdown, and it struck a chord. He later added: “you don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.” It’s a line that applies equally to the government shutdown and the debt ceiling fiasco.
It’s a clear, concise description of what the Republican Party is trying to do. Funding the government is not some favor that Republicans do for Democrats, it’s the basic job of the Congress. In past negotiations, Obama has fallen into the Republican logic rabbit hole and tried to negotiate on their terms. This time, he has found how to articulate what the GOP is doing and illuminate its ugliness for all it is worth. That’s why Democrats won this round, and why there is a glimmer of hope that we can stop governing by artificial crisis and get back to being a functioning democracy.