Belmont Club

The Logic of the Alamo

Nothing is certain about the future, though some things are highly probable. It is virtually certain, for instance, that Obamacare will be a dog in its initial years, if not indefinitely: the software supporting it is bug-ridden; none of its tested parameters have shown any sign of coming close to the promised spec; the premiums are costing more than predicted; and just complying with its rules has proved “unexpectedly” crippling.

Obamacare is no different from any other federal project that is beset with overruns, underspec performance, and scandal. As in those cases, it is a question of showing the buyers the carefully choreographed graphics while leaving the bad news for the last, after the customer has signed on the dotted line.

A virtual certitude — according to GOP establishment types, per Andy McCarthy — is that you are doomed to buy this lemon whether you like it not, whether you oppose it or not, come what may. Obamacare is legislatively unstoppable, its defects notwithstanding:

In mounting their case against Senators Ted Cruz, House conservatives, and the grass-roots campaign to defund Obamacare, the Republican establishment and its like-minded scribes pound an oft-repeated talking point into conventional wisdom: Cruz cannot win.

In this telling, the senator has recklessly embarked on a populist campaign that taps into public anger over Obamacare but has no winning endgame. The Beltway clerisy elaborates that Cruz and his defunding partner, Senator Mike Lee, have failed to account for the Democratic majority and procedural rules that control the Senate.

There’s just too much money to be skimmed from it to stop now, or so the thinking goes. Taken together, these two probabilities imply that the single degree of freedom open to political actors is whom to blame for what is almost certainly a train wreck. As Obama himself argued, it all comes to down to who takes credit and who gets blame.

He said in a speech that “once it’s working really well, I guarantee you they will not call it Obamacare.” He forgot to say that by the same token, once it collapses in a pile of ruin he will refer to it “as the perfect future health program that Ted Cruz smashed.”

Since the argument is all about the future, Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal advises Republicans to concede the present and trust in Providence. Give way before the Democratic juggernaut now, the better to counterattack later when Obamacare collapses under its own weight:

Republicans and conservatives, instead of tilting at the defunding windmill, should be working now to present the American people with the policy ideas that will emerge inevitably when Obamacare’s declines. The system of private insurance exchanges being adopted by the likes of Walgreens suggests a parallel alternative to ObamaCare may be happening already.

But Obama has already thought of that, which is why he wants the Republicans to compromise now so he can share the blame with them when the wheels fall off. Can’t you just hear the words now: “We sought bipartisan consensus … even John McCain stood with me on this podium”?  You will, in due time. So it may be of little good to the Republicans to sell out their principles now in the hopes of upholding their principles later. Certainly producing Henninger’s article to justify the strategem of  “retreating in order to later attack” seems unlikely to work.

The fight over Obamacare is a classic case of where the future position matters more than the present one; about how the billiard balls lie after the current stroke. The relevant questions are about how the board will look when the pieces have netted out. These are the calculations that should be running through the GOP’s head. Instead, their thinking is probably governed by a vague conventional wisdom, like don’t repeat the mistake of the 1995 shutdown.

In truth, beyond the facts that Obamacare is almost certainly going to be disastrous and the GOP can’t stop it, almost nothing else is certain.

Of course, the date has changed to Obama’s disadvantage. Bill Clinton won in part because his vision of expansive government was far more marketable in the years of prosperity and recent defeat of the Soviet Union. If there was ever a time to close the government-funded health deal, it should have been while America was in the spending mood.

Indeed, Hillary tried it in 1993. In the light of her performance at the State Department, it is easy to understand why she failed. If anybody could bungle a “reset button,” she could.

Despite the president’s weakness, the prospect of politically going all-out against the president must be a daunting one for a GOP party grown habituated to the sure thing. Challenging the Left — even after six years of miserable failure — is something the Republican leadership would prefer to avoid.

However, the truth is that all roads are now fraught with peril for the GOP. Circumstances have combined to do two things: put Obamacare at the center of the national stage where they cannot ignore it, and openly divide the Republican Party’s public response to it.

The GOP is a troop of two cavalry platoons which have rushed off in a direction 90 degrees from the remaining base platoon, and in the presence of the enemy. Should their captain maintain his majestic but solitary advance, or go haring after the rest of the men? They must unite to be a viable force. If the GOP apparatchiks do not crush Cruz completely, they must bring him and his followers enthusiastically back into the fold. Nothing less will do, otherwise they will reach the 2014 battlefield split.

Not following Cruz’s lead now is arguably just as dangerous as following him. Which of these two perils to accept — since risk is now unavoidable — is the problem to be solved. How they will do it is anybody’s guess.

The GOP may never make a decision over whether to stand or fly before Obamacare. Decisions often occur by default. It seems appropriate (since Cruz is a Texan) to recall that the decision to defend the Alamo occurred mostly by accident. Nobody planned it. Sam Houston actually wanted to evacuate the Alamo and to redeploy the artillery and forces there elsewhere. A series of misunderstandings between commanders left the garrison there until Santa Ana’s army appeared, and then it became a question of fight or run. Conscious strategy had little to do with it.

The unplanned battle became the fulcrum of events. Yet it did not do so in and of itself. What ultimately made the Alamo a victory was the existence of the “afterwards” in the form of forces and rearrangements that nobody, not Travis nor Bowie nor Crockett, could predict. It could have turned out to be completely different. We remember the Alamo today because the cards played out in such a way as to give it imperishable meaning. But without San Jacinto or Santa Ana’s incompetence, the Alamo would probably not be remembered much, if at all, today.

That is pretty much the problem with history: you never know how things will work out ahead of time, an inconvenient but unavoidable fact. GK Chesterton once called the future a society constructed by “the democracy of the dead,” a circumstance in which lies are perhaps our last cause for hope, since posterity is probably the only thing we can espouse without personal interest in which there is no moral hazard. What we do for the future, if we do at all, we do for love.

Nothing else makes sense.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe