President Barack Obama's victory this week was as complete and devastating as Sherman's march through the South. But there is no early sign that the zealots of the anti-government far right have learned the lessons of their defeat — which means that more battles lie ahead.
House Speaker John Boehner was not being honest Wednesday when he explained the GOP surrender by saying, “We fought the good fight; we just didn't win.” This was not a good fight. Republicans picked an objective that was never realistic — forcing Obama to nullify the Affordable Care Act, his biggest achievement — and tactics that amounted to self-immolation.
Boehner knew from the start that the GOP would be blamed for shuttering the government and that he could never really allow the Treasury to default. So what on earth was the point?
Apologists say that Boehner had to go through with the shutdown and go down to the wire on the debt ceiling to show the hard-core tea-party members of his caucus that “we control one-half of one-third of the government,” as the speaker has said — that a slender House majority has limited power.
But come on, really? Can these people not count? Or do they have such blind faith in their own wisdom that they think they are divinely ordained to prevail, whatever the odds? That is the mindset of crusaders, not legislators.
By standing with his troops in a lost cause, Boehner won respect and admiration from the most conservative House Republicans, including the tea-party caucus. But I doubt this enhanced authority goes very far or means all that much.
Boehner's headstrong charges have shown that they will follow him obediently — as long as he charts whatever nonsensical and counterproductive course of action the radical right demands. They'll follow him into a box canyon of their choosing. But will they follow him into any sort of meaningful compromise with Obama, whom they so ardently demonize? I doubt it.