Conservative opinions of the compromise deal struck late last night, which averted a shutdown of the federal government, are decidedly mixed. Andrew Stiles of National Review was triumphant, applauding “Boehner’s robust leadership.” And by avoiding the shutdown scenario — which some Democrats clearly relished as an opportunity to excoriate Republicans as “extremists” — Boehner’s compromise deal “allows the Republicans to live again and fight another day,” as our own Jim Antle observed in the wee hours.
My own midnight mood was disgruntled. It appears that Republican leaders used pro-lifers as a bargaining chip, making a show of standing firm on the defunding of Planned Parenthood, only to abandon that position at the last minute. The GOP thus made a winner of Chuck Schumer, who had vowed the Senate would “never, never, never” agree to cut the taxpayer subsidy to Planned Parenthood.
Basic rule of thumb: It’s not a conservative victory if Chuck Schumer has any reason to smile.
Beyond the GOP’s disappointing (but by no means unprecedented) abandonment of social conservatives, the amount that Boehner’s bargain would cut from the 2011 budget, about $39 billion, represents something less than 1/30th of this year’s deficit. So if this “historic” reduction of federal spending (to borrow Harry Reid’s expression) charts our future course, the United States might achieve a balanced budget by 2042.
This sober fiscal reality makes GOP triumphalists look a lot like Charlie Sheen boasting that his drug-fueled career meltdown was “winning.” But so long as Speaker Boehner is not claiming to be a “total frickin’ rock star from Mars,” at least there is hope that this might be the first step toward budget sobriety. However, my grassroots Tea Party friends, who are screaming “betrayal” and vowing to support primary challengers against every congressional Republican incumbent next year, are certainly justified in their dissatisfaction with what Boehner called “the best deal we could get.”
In their discontent with half-measures and “compromise” victories, grassroots conservatives remind me of the ancient Athenians. In 432 B.C., Thucydides tells us in his History of the Pelopponesian War, the reluctance of Sparta to resist Athenian expansion was condemned by a Corinthian ambassador, who described the relentless and daring spirit of the Athenians:
“And what they have planned but not carried out, they think that in this they lose something already their own; what they have attempted and gained, that in this they have achieved but little in comparison with what they mean to do.”
What Boehner has achieved is less than what conservatives had hoped, and thus they count it as a loss. Even if it is a victory, however, conservatives consider it “but little in comparison with what they mean to do.” And so in answer to the question of what conservatives will next demand from Republican leadership, the answer is simple: More.