According to the mainstream media, the government shutdown has polarized conservatives into two distinct camps; those that believe we can't wait one moment longer to kill Obamacare, and those who say we can't kill the beast without controlling the Senate. The irony, of course, is that both sides agree that Obamacare is a danger to our country and our freedoms, and needs a garlic covered stake to the heart.
But this supposedly dire situation we are in is one that the party should be familiar with-we have faced this same question many times before, both as a party and as Americans.
The Republican party was created in 1854 over a concern that abolitionists were not moving fast enough to counter slavery. Facing the threat of the extension of slavery into the territories because of the Kansas-Nebraska act, a coalition of members of the Free Soil and Whig parties came together to form the Republican Party, dedicated to the opposition of the steady encroachment of slavery in America.
For the next seven years, the Republican Party was torn on the best way to not only push back against slavery, but to begin rolling it back and eventually see it ended in the United States. Some pushed for abolition of slavery through legislative efforts similar to the Wilmot Proviso, which tried to limit slavery in the territory won during the Mexican American War. Some hoped in vain for the Supreme Court to rule against the peculiar institution. Others favored direct action that would rally the people to the cause and create a groundswell that would end slavery in one fell swoop. John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was one such effort, though the groundswell never appeared.
Everyone in the Republican party at the time agreed that slavery was evil, a threat to democracy, and ultimately the American way of life. What they disagreed on was the best way to achieve their goal of abolition.
The similarities to today are numerous. Every Republican agrees that Obamacare is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the American ideal. What we disagree on is the method of getting rid of it. Republicans in the House have tried multiple times to kill the (Un)Affordable Care Act through legislation, all to no avail. Across the country conservatives pinned their hopes on the Supreme Court ruling Obamacare in violation of the Constitution, only to have their hopes dashed by a conservative jurist. Senator Ted Cruz gave us direct action with his talking filibuster and resulting government shutdown, whose hope was that a groundswell of public outrage over the shutdown would force the Democrats in the Senate and the president himself to offer concessions, or at least negotiate. Just like at Harper's Ferry, Sen Cruz critically misjudged the public passion and their willingness to endure sacrifice. Admittedly, the White House did their best to drive the public the the GOP side, insulting veterans and in particular the Greatest Generation, needlessly closing National Parks and hitting control-alt-delete on federal websites, but that outrage was short-lived and given short shift by the media.
The key lesson of slavery that applies to Obamacare today is the ultimate method of abolishing slavery in America-the ballot box. While everyone remembers the Civil War and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers killed as the end of slavery, in reality slavery was doomed as soon as Abraham Lincoln was elected. Not because candidate Lincoln promised to abolish slavery-Lincoln campaigned on respecting the law as written-but because the election of Lincoln meant that slavery no longer had a defender in the White House. The South began succession fever because of Lincoln's election and nothing else. Similarly, the death of Obamacare will come when we elect a president who does not support Obamacare, even if he/she will obey the law of the land. Conservatives would never embrace an imperial presidency like we have seen in President Obama, but even a strict Constitutionalist president will be able to exercise broad power in reducing and rolling back Obamacare.
Those who say that shutting down the government is a good method of putting pressure on the Democrats, or that holding the debt limit hostage to the end of Obamacare need to review the history of President Abraham Lincoln and how he prosecuted the war against the South and how he brought about abolition. Lincoln never moved farther than the Constitution allowed him to, because he was above all dedicated to the preservation of the Union of the states. The Emancipation Proclamation left slavery in place in Union territory precisely because Lincoln had no authority to end it. The Proclamation explicitly offered to allow the South to rejoin the Union with slavery, because Lincoln understood that above all else, the Union must be preserved.
The lessons to draw from the example of the North and South are clear. We are seeking to abolish Obamacare, and we should adopt that language to brand the GOP as the party of abolition. We need to stop attacking Democrats and painting them into a corner from which they can do naught but defend Obamacare, and instead take every occasion to offer Democrats a chance to join us in abolishing Obamacare.
But most of all, we need to steer clear of any plan that puts us in the position of dismantling the Union in order to save it. Shutdowns and psuedo-defaults are not the tools the Founding Fathers gave us to work with in the Constitution. We have the power of the ballot box and the ability to take control of the government by voting out those who threaten it. Taking the US Senate will deprive the president of the free hand he currently enjoys to dictate policy as he sees fit. Taking the White House in 2016 will remove the central pillar of Obamacare in it's institutional support from the administration.
The Republican party will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.