By John Krull
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – President Obama should send Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other tea party hardliners a thank you note.
If Cruz and his fellow travelers hadn’t pushed to shut down the federal government for more than two weeks and also dabbled with the idea of having the United States default on its debt (which would have invited economic catastrophe), then Americans would be giving Obama a much harder time in regard to the flawed roll-out of the nation’s new health care website.
That website has been like a car with a clogged fuel line. It starts, and then jerks to a stop. It runs for a bit, belches some smoke and then comes to another stop.
If that were the only thing Americans had to focus on, they likely would be enraged, rather than annoyed.
But, thanks to Cruz and the tea party, it isn’t the only thing to which Americans can devote their attention. They also get to think about the shutdown and the $24 billion it cost the economy, along with slowed job growth and fresh doubts about the rationality of America’s leaders.
Because Americans are more scared about those things than they are about the oops-driven roll-out of the health care system, Obama has gotten something of a pass from the public on this screw-up.
Cruz and his crowd still don’t realize what they have done to both their party and their country. The damage could be lasting to both.
Let’s start with the Republican Party.
Most polls now show that the GOP, at the national level, has public approval ratings not far above those for the common cold or the flu. In some polls, approval of the Republican Party has dropped to somewhere around 15 percent – and has recorded numbers below 40 percent even among voters who identify themselves as Republicans.
Democrats also saw their poll numbers drop during and after the shutdown, but the polls show that they have nearly twice as much support as Republicans do. The GOP drop has been so precipitous that Republicans now are in danger of losing the U.S. House of Representatives in next year’s election – even though House districts across the country had been so heavily gerrymandered that they were built to withstand the political equivalent of a tidal wave of Democratic support.
For Republicans to lose the House, the GOP at the national level would have to have become irrelevant.
And the GOP is right on the edge of being irrelevant.
That’s dangerous to the country.
If modern U.S. history demonstrates anything, it is that a president – regardless of the party to which he belongs – whose power is unchecked by credible opposition can make disastrous choices for the country.
Consider Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing plan and assault on the principle of judicial review. Lyndon Johnson’s behind-the-scenes, sleight-of-hand escalation in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan’s hidden-hand plan to arm terrorists in exchange for hostages in the Iran-Contra scandal. Or George W. Bush’s ill-advised march into Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.
In each case, the lineage of the failure was the same. Great power gave birth to arrogance. Arrogance gave birth to heedlessness. And heedlessness gave birth to disaster.
While the presidents, Democrat and Republican, in each of these situations must bear the majority of the responsibility for the damage done, some of it also must be apportioned to the opposition parties who put themselves in positions from which they could not operate as voices for restraint.
That’s pretty close to where Republicans are now at the national level. The cost of the GOP strategy of opposing everything Barack Obama has done as president, however benign, is the same as the cost to the boy who always was crying wolf.
Democrats, independents and moderates no longer believe Cruz and his fellow travelers, even when the tea party crowd actually does see a wolf.
Even when they actually do have a point.
Because of the GOP’s record of unrelenting opposition to all things Obama, their complaints about the roll-out of the health care system haven’t gotten the traction that they should.
And that’s scary.
It’s scary because a sloppy roll-out of a website is not the worst thing this president – or any president – could do if the other party isn’t able to keep him in check.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.