Sun Tzu probably had no idea that his treatise “The Art of War” would still be often cited and respected over 2500 years after his death. It’s a masterpiece of strategic thinking that applies to any conflict be it military, political, or even athletic. The United States armed forces have even gone so far as to require that the book be in each unit’s library. One of the most prescient quotes from the works is “victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Mike Lee seems to have completely skipped this part when agitating for a government shutdown.
I get why he’s doing it. Federal programs, once enacted, are very difficult to undo no matter how unpopular they get. If you don’t believe it, remember that a “temporary” phone tax enacted for the Spanish-American War was repealed sometime during the Bush Administration. For them, this is the last stand before a program they legitimately believe to be horrible rolls forward. The House is following because elections matter. It’s no coincidence that in the two federal elections after the ACA passed, the opposition party took control of the House. They rode in on a promise to undo the ACA, and they’re determined to fulfill it. If they don’t fight hard enough for the base, they’ll get replaced.
The problem is that while a shutdown could have potentially been a Battle of Rorke’s Drift, it’s starting to look a lot more like The Alamo. Lee has to be smart enough to know that a shutdown was coming and when it would happen. Given those circumstances, you’d think he would have laid the groundwork for explaining the issues with the federal budgeting process, the unworkability of creating new entitlements beyond the reach of Congress (which now comprises a full 2/3 of federal spending), and why playing a game of chicken to see who blinks first would be the best way to force the hand of a dug-in Senate and President. Instead, absolutely no narrative or purpose to the shutdown was created and the first to market ideas are now the defining narrative. Lee can’t even properly capitalize on the ham-fisted way in which national parks are being closed down, a prime piece of low-hanging fruit.
The failure to figure out how to win before picking the fight never ends well. It has already distracted media attention away from the train wreck that is the ACA launch and numerous stories about huge premium increases, both things that would build popular support for 2014 and beyond to eliminate the ACA. About the only silver lining is that the two parties have pretty clearly defined who owns the ACA and its attendant problems. I wonder if Mike Lee will find a way to screw that up too.