From my Washington Examiner column this week, titled, “Conservatives Hew to Principle when it doesn’t matter.”
“By allowing more foreign sugar into the United States, we create unnecessary and hurtful competition.”
What left-wing hater of business and free markets could have said such a thing on the House floor Friday? It was Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who over his nine-year career in Congress has accumulated a 93 percent rating from the American Conservative Union.
So, how does a conservative Republican in a conservative Republican district get away with saying this kind of garbage? Simple. He becomes the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment to ban the burning of the American flag.
Or, in this case, he jumps on board the “defund” strategy — which Poe did early.
Think about this: By simply jumping onto this symbolic, non-substantive strategy that was always doomed to fail, a lot of “conservative” lawmakers have bought themselves cover from and slack with the Right. They all knew it wasn’t going anywhere. And now, this dubious tactic will serve as a litmus test in future elections. It is a triumph of symbolism over principled conservative substance that helps distract the base from real issues where conservatives should be winning.
The point here is not that sugar subsidies are more important than Obamacare. They aren’t, not even close. But the point is that there are some issues where conservatives have a very real chance of a victory, even though Obama is president and Democrats control the Senate. When those issues arise, they’re the ones we want lawmakers risking their careers over — not chasing unicorns from deep-red districts and states at no expense. That’s how the ball gets moved.
The sugar debate was one such small opportunity for a substantive, bipartisan victory over backwards left-wing economic planning. It had a non-zero chance of success, given that it had passed the Senate. The “defund” movement, on the other hand, wasn’t just a longshot. It had zero chance of success, because the votes were never there. Even if every Republican Senator had stood with Ted Cruz, and Harry Reid had agreed to pass mini-CR after mini-CR from the House to fund every part of the government without addressing Obamacare, the law was already fully funded. It wasn’t even slightly threatened at any point.
Defund was just a sympbolic opportunity for members to beat their chests and show how conservative they were, in order to cover other faults — just like flag-burning amendments.
Let me offer another example that a lot of readers will appreciate. I’m not a “close-the-borders” kind of conservative — quite the opposite. But if I were, I’d be highlighting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s lusty embrace of “defund.” What better way to fool the base and develop a riposte in a presidential primary (or even a Senate primary) against any opponent who brings up the immigration issue? “I was there standing with you when we defied the President and tried to defund Obamacare! I was there standing with you when it didn’t matter or accomplish anything at all.” It means nothing, of course, but it covers a multitude of sins.