Government Shutdown Strategy: When Right Opportunism beats Left Sectarianism

The game of political negotiation is a labyrinth, a spectacle by which reputations are lost and won…and in some cases gridlocked.

Usually, I’m a fan of gridlock, because I’m a fan of winding down the state.  I romanticize about the idea of a permanent government shutdown and the elevation of a free humanity based on natural law and virtue.  

Murray Rothbard once wrote:

The libertarian, then, should be an abolitionist who would, if he could, abolish instantaneously all invasions of liberty. Following the classical liberal Leonard Read, who advocated immediate and total abolition of price-and-wage controls after World War II, we might refer to this as the “button-pushing” criterion. Thus, Read declared that “If there were a button on this rostrum, the pressing of which would release all wage-and-price controls instantaneously I would put my finger on it and push!

The libertarian, then, should be a person who would push a button, if it existed, for the instantaneous abolition of all invasions of liberty.

Yet, I am a pragmatist, too. 

Rothbard later in the chapter also went on to delineate the differences in political brinksmanship — what he and others have termed “right opportunism” and “left sectarianism.”  The former is the strategy of forgoing the radical hope of gaining immediate access to “push the button” for the sake of short term gains.

For example, in the world of partisan politics, the GOP had scored a key tactical victory during the debt ceiling debate of 2011. The negotiations surrounding that federal dilemma recently paid political dividends by gaining some hard and fast federal budget cuts via the “sequester.”  While a modest gain in the grand scheme of things, this budget cut occurred during the administration of a monolithic tax and spend government complex, and was certainly well played in that it offered no quarter for the partisans opposed to the measure. 

This is a classic example of right opportunism being implemented and carried out as a political strategy.

In the latter case, left sectarianism as a political strategy is what the nation has witnessed during the budget and debt ceiling debates. The button was pushed, and the government (albeit only partially) was shutdown.

As a committed state abolitionist and supporter of the cause to cast Obamacare into the memory hole, I can tell you; this strategy as implemented was and is a complete and utter failure from beginning to end.

Firstly, the GOP never had votes, couldn’t defund an entitlement (Obamacare) with only a “continuing resolution” — and given that they are a fragmented minority party, they had no leverage going into this battle to create an opportunity which could reform entitlements via debt ceiling negotiations.  As of now, their prime political accomplishment, the sequester may be at risk and they simultaneously have willfully inflicted major damage to their political brand over the government shutdown.

Have I missed anything?

I’ve read some articles from GOP partisan news outlets recently and frankly…they still don’t get it. They’re doubling down, they’re calling for primaries against anyone who refuses to not give up on this lost and poorly thought out cause, risking further serious damage to their chances of having any opportunity to increase their chances of even walking up to the button, much less pushing it!

For the record, let it be known that left sectarianism only works when you have the power. Need I remind you how Obamacare was passed in the first place?  Barack Obama and his partisans effectively gained access to the entire government and pushed the button. This is how left sectarianism works, from high ground, from a position of strategic power, not from a junior position.

Right opportunism is the weaker position, the position of the minority; and to their credit, the GOP played the opposition well with the sequester. They could’ve continued their success, leveraged a clean CR and debt limit, while gaining the moral high ground by insisting on attaching the Vitter Amendment; the amendment which requires Congress and staff to also live under the Affordable Care Act.  That’s an easy win for them and a loss for their opponents.

Also, further PR gains would’ve been made as the GOP would’ve been able to take advantage of one of the greatest failures of state coordination, the open enrollment and roll out of Obamacare.  

As an observer, I do not know how this recent debacle will end for the GOP, but they sure did a lot of unnecessary and serious harm to their cause by insisting on the impossible and pushing a button that was never at their finger tips.

May this be a lesson to all Liberty activists, that when you have the opportunity to achieve humble gains do so, and when you have the power to make revolutionary gains do so.  But don’t mistake small success and hype for true power.  The stakes are often too high for this kind of dramatic folly. 

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