In the film Tombstone, Wyatt Earp is attempting to arrest Curly Bill Brocious, but is surrounded by Ike Clanton and his gang. Earp takes his cocked revolver and lays it squarely on Clanton’s forehead to encourage the group to disperse. After some talk about turning Ike’s head into a canoe, Billy Clanton suggests they rush him, saying “he doesn’t really mean it”. Ike, his eyes the size of saucers, staring straight at Earp, sputters, “No, he really means it.”
End of stand-off…until the next time.
Lesson No 1
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? Did you ever stop to wonder how much effort has to go into to doing the right thing, day in, day out? It seems every time you take the high road and do the right thing, it insures that you’ll likely have to do it all again tomorrow…over and over again, until…
1) they either wear you out, or 2) you have it out with them, once and for all.
So, you can see that doing the right thing can be a bother, especially when you’re surrounded by lawlessness. And you can also see why, in politics, it’s the squeaky wheel that usually gets the grease. Anything to shut them up, even if “anything” is two steps toward greater surrender. Finally, it’s why, after years of ducking charges of “racist,” you suddenly find you’re dodging “meat-eater,” anti-gay marriage, or pro-internal combustion engine, as if they were all the same.
Can “Christian” be far behind? For once they have you ducking, once the line of least resistance is the one most often chosen, they have you.
Lesson No 2
Wyatt Earp won that stand-off because Ike Clanton had profiled him. It wasn’t so much Wyatt Earp’s eyes, or the timbre of his voice, but his reputation that assured Ike that Wyatt fully intended to kill him if need be.
Thankfully, we don’t have to carry a sidearm just to prove our word has mettle anymore. Being older, I generally look upon politicians with a certain amount of sympathy because most are younger than me, and I know most of them have been denied the rite of passage of my time, when it was as kids that we first knew how to stake out one’s own ground, to say what you mean and mean what you say. It was on America’s playgrounds, among peers and bullies alike, that the “reputation” process began.
It’s not been that way for a long, long time in large portions of American society.
Still we all agree, it’s important in a world where the meaningfulness of language is languishing…
to say what you mean, and mean what you say…and have it believed.
As Herman Cain is trying to prove, sometimes the world will beat a path to your door on that one account alone. Anthropologists call this “survival enhancing.” So do moral philosophers. And a reputation helps since tough talk continues to get cheaper and cheaper. (See Wisconsin, Minnesota)
Do the Republicans Mean What They Say? And will anyone Believe them?
Well, you can see the problem the Republicans in Congress have right now in this stare-down with Obama over the debt ceiling. They don’t have a reputation worth squat in these matters.
For forty years, the House Republicans had to raise their hand and ask permission just to go to the restroom. Tip O’Neill used to have Bob Michel run out and get coffee, or serve hors d’oeuvres at meetings.
Even though the Republicans have been the House majority for all but four years since 1994, somehow they’ve never been able to run out from under that forty-two year (1952-1994) stigma of being in a perpetual position of subservience. Clinton rolled Gingrich fairly easily, and Hastert, six years with Bush, did little to distinguish himself as a leader in the war with the Left…or even that he knew there was one.
Boehner and Cantor arrived in 2010 carrying that baggage.
To date the GOP still hasn’t yet created an agenda-driven reputation of “I mean it.” Now all of a sudden, it’s for all the marbles.
Donald Trump, the art-of-the-deal man himself, is saying the GOP House is talking tough, but will fold because they seem way too needy to get a good deal. No one takes their word seriously. No one really believes any of the GOP leadership is willing to turn anybody’s head into a canoe. They have been perpetual perspirers. Sweaty palms.
The GOP does have some new, young guns in both chambers, Rubio, West, Lee, as well as others coming out of the private sector from backgrounds where there was no compromise in the things they said or did professionally (e.g., Dan Benishek, MI-01, a surgeon). Ron Johnson and Herman Cain seem to be cut from that mold as well. People like these are more likely to quit Washington before they will allow themselves to descend into becoming pettifoggers.
They do mean it.
But as you know, this new blood is not in the front row of these current negotiations. Some day they will be and some day there will be even more just like them. They are the wave. But not now.
Even still, they are staring holes in the backs of their leaders and represent one of the intangibles that drives Boehner & Co and which, I think, Mr Obama and his team of supervisors have grossly miscalculated.
You see, it isn’t whether Boehner “means it” so much as those eyes trained at his back. They sure as hell do.
The Tale of the Tape
As I said in an earlier piece, the cards themselves dictate the game. Donald Trump never got involved in a deal he couldn’t afford to walk away from. He never played the game for more than he could afford to lose. John Boehner is in that game now.
So, for the next 14-15 days we will continue to see a Wimbledon “Advantage Mr Obama,” “Advantage Mr Boehner” back and forth, while essentially nothing will have changed, for none of the key elements of this face-off will have changed. All the cards have been dealt, lying face up.
Inside-the-beltway pundits continue to say that Obama is holding the better hand. But of the two hands, I continue to say Obama has the more difficult one to play, for he cannot afford to be wrong, while Boehner much more simply cannot afford to give Obama anything he wants. Call it “boxed in,” or be more charitable and say “He really means it,” Boehner simply cannot give Obama what he’s asking for, for even if he wanted to, he still couldn’t deliver.
Obama is playing the far more dangerous game, precisely because he is president, owns the bully pulpit, but more perilously, over-estimates his strutting-around power to mesmerize the public.
In fact, right now, he’s coming off quite foolish-looking, his party leaders only yesterday complaining as to how a 5’8 House runt, Eric Cantor, (he even wears glasses!) bullied that 6’3 magnificent hunk of man. To hear Harry Reid describe it, Cantor had intentionally stepped on a puppy-dog…with cleats.
Did Obama Infer a Bridge Too Far?
Obama thinks his ace-in-the-hole is the fact that if there is any kind of required reduction of government coming from the debt ceiling having been breached, the GOP will suffer just as they did in 1996. His own vanity tells him this is an easy sell (and just who is telling him 80% of the people favor tax increases?).
Obama’s fallback is the belief that a contrived rolling government shut down will somehow benefit him!
That he appears to be blithely rushing toward this outcome may be one of history’s all time great lapses, for he may well not only bring down his presidency, but his entire movement.
It is true, insider-GOP’ers are scared to death of this rush to D-Day. But this affects Boehner’s play not one whit. Just get an extra bottle of Tums for it will be a rocky ride. In truth, the GOP won’t be risking much in the 2012 elections if they stay firm. In 1996, after the last shutdown that was such a political catastrophe (we’re told), the GOP lost only a few seats and did not relinquish control of the House. This time, they could gain an additional 10 or 15 just by staring Obama down. (I’m wagering.)
Even in the Senate, I can’t see GOP candidates running away from any Obama-caused shut-down.
Obama is risking it all believing a happy two-fer, either the GOP caves or he gets to bring the world right down on top of its head by causing a government shutdown. Only recent history proves him wrong, witness Wisconsin, and just last week, Minnesota.
Charles Krauthammer wants the GOP to call Obama’s bluff, because he believes, just as he did with the Bush tax cuts, he will once again blink. (Better he had done this two weeks ago.)
But I want the GOP to call his bluff because he just may shut down government, meaning finally, we can take this whole discussion before the People.
We can have it out, once and for all. I think we win…big.
And from where the sun now stands, never again will anyone ask “Do they really mean it?”