Several Republican presidential candidates, including the usually deliberative Carly Fiorina, favor a government shutdown if President Obama will not agree to defund Planned Parenthood. A shutdown would hurt Republicans.
Republican Congressman Tom McClintock (Ca-4) quit the pro-shutdown House Freedom Caucus last week. A consistent opponent of tax dollars for abortions, McClintock said the shutdown would “alienate the public from the pro-life cause at precisely the time when undercover videos of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices are turning public opinion in our favor.”
Several friends of mine in Congress who oppose a shutdown privately praised McClintock but have remained publicly aloof, because they fear a backlash from pro-life groups and conservative hard-liners. But Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, who opposes tax money for “a vile organization,” is pragmatic: “Realistically, with President Obama in the White House holding that veto pen,” the shutdown would hurt the chances of electing “a new pro-life president.”
Why should conservatives in Congress lose sleep over pro-shutdown right-wingers who would judge them, yet defer to Donald Trump? For example, pro-life Ann Coulter, obsessed with illegal immigration, tweeted last month: “I don’t care if Donald Trump wants to perform abortions in the White House after this immigration policy paper.” I take her sarcasm seriously.
Pro-life talk radio hosts like Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, who have generally faulted Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for lackluster leadership, want another shutdown but also give a pass to Donald Trump, who was pro-choice until recently, and who favored Planned Parenthood even after the videos, until an abrupt reversal. Meanwhile shutdown hardliner Sen. Ted Cruz also remains soft on Trump, although Trump himself would not shut down the government.
Planned Parenthood is part of a recent and growing tradition of government funding of private groups. We live increasingly in an age of “public-private partnerships”; more than two generations ago, that corporate state was called fascism. Now, favored crony capitalists gleefully enrich themselves with government subsidies. And liberals and conservatives channel government funds for their own ends, for example, to religious and charitable groups that more efficiently dispense job training, addiction treatment, and other services. Indeed, school choice presupposes government funds to private schools.
Planned Parenthood appears to violate the legal prohibition against selling fetus body parts. Opponents want to direct government funds elsewhere for “women’s health services.” No matter what is on those videos, Hillary Clinton will not oppose Planned Parenthood, because for her it’s all about a war on women. But if there were a vast right-wing conspiracy, as she once envisioned, the competent conspirators would have orchestrated weeks or months of prolonged escalation — columns, editorials, interviews, and even ad campaigns so that President Obama’s veto of defunding legislation would produce a backlash against him. And the supposed silent majority would be motivated to turn out in November 2016 to elect a pro-life Republican president.
Hillary and her colleagues also would not suggest that abortion supporters raise private contributions from individuals and foundations to replace government support for Planned Parenthood. That’s because for Clinton and ideologues, Planned Parenthood is part of the women’s movement, and ending funding is seen as an assault on women, and a slippery slope to undo Roe V. Wade. For the pro-life side, the issue is morality, so the sooner the better to end government funding of Planned Parenthood. That accounts for their frenzy to pursue a government shutdown, even if the shutdown would alienate independent and switch voters, and even some Republicans.
Shutdown proponents are wrong and naïve to believe they can reverse roles with President Obama and depict him as the obstructionist, because Republicans are the ones embracing the shutdown as a tactic. And Republicans have urged or pursued shutdowns in the past, so they appear not principled, but confrontational, and not wise, but juvenile.
The Republican focus should be on a presidential veto of legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, thus putting President Obama on the defensive. Instead, a government shutdown will divert attention from the videos to the shutdown. President Obama and the Democrats will win that war of images because:
(1) A shutdown is inherently radical and imprudent, hardly conservative. Republicans will seem irresponsible to voters.
(2) The debate will be about the shutdown and the hardships it creates. No matter what the outcome, Republicans lose the debate.
(3) The shutdown is fiscally irresponsible. It hurts workers and vendors not paid on time. And when it’s all over, government workers who did not report to work are paid retroactively, so taxpayers lose out.
(4) The shutdown angers the risk-averse 401K voters. A shutdown precipitates wild stock market swings that make money for daring speculators but cause anxiety and losses among the voters who are saving for their future, the future-oriented voters whom Republicans need for electoral success. Even pro-life investors in stocks and mutual funds will be anxious and angry.