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On Defending Principles

A Wall Street Journalarticle compares the latest shutdown with the one in 1995-96, and finds few similarities. This passage jumps out:

“The difficulty here is that Republicans have no achievable endgame,” [bold mine-DL] said Daniel Meyer, a former Gingrich chief of staff who went on to serve as White House liaison to the House for President George W. Bush.

Whatever else one wants to say about the last few weeks leading up to the shutdown, it’s the sheer futility of the Republican defunders’ approach that continues to amaze. There is always the danger that any political effort could go wrong or backfire, but there is also usually the possibility that there could be a successful outcome. It is rare to see a coordinated effort to try something that everyone already knows has no chance of succeeding. It is bad enough to seek a maximalist goal with insufficient means, but to seek a goal that is unobtainable from the beginning is baffling. Perseverance is an admirable quality, but like any other it can be taken to excess and become harmful.

Scott Galupo quotes Rep. Steve Pearce (NM-02) saying this:

At times, you must act on principle and not ask what cost, what are the chances of success.

That might sound impressive until one thinks about it for a moment. Especially when one is defending a principle, it is important to understand what the costs and chances of success are, because it could undermine and even discredit that principle in the eyes of others if the cost is too high or failure is certain. If the principle at stake is a political one, the fact that there is no chance that a particular maneuver will work is relevant, because failure will have political implications that make it more difficult and costlier to defend that principle later on.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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