All eyes in the Senate Tuesday were on Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, which, I suppose, was the point of the exercise.
Sen. Cruz took the floor at 2:42 p.m. and held it for 21 hours and 19 minutes. He spoke, eloquently, about why Obamacare should be defunded -- in an effort to keep the Senate from taking up a House bill that defunds Obamacare.
This wasn't as nutty as it sounds. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid planned to bring the House bill -- whose primary purpose is to keep the government funded through December -- to the floor under a rule which would give each side just 30 hours of debate. Then Democrats, who control the Senate, 54-46, would strip the Obamacare provision from it.
Sen. Cruz could speak against the rule for as long as his vocal cords held out. Then the Senate took up the reconciliation bill just as Sen. Reid had scheduled. But only if you think its purpose was to stop Obama- care could Sen. Cruz's filibuster be considered a failure.
"Never interfere with an enemy while he is destroying himself."
That maxim is derived from what Napoleon told his marshals at the battle of Austerlitz when they asked why he didn't react to a foolish enemy maneuver. A variant, attributed to Woodrow Wilson, is "never murder a man who is committing suicide."
Obamacare officially begins Tuesday. The administration is wholly unprepared. Panic is spreading throughout the land. Seniors are frightened. Young people are turned off. Labor unions have buyers' remorse. Government employees want nothing to do with it.
If Congress doesn't pass a bill to fund it before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, the government may spend only as much as it takes in in taxes. Because we have such a big deficit, this means spending must be slashed.
Republicans should shut down the government to defund Obama- care, say Sen. Cruz and a handful of confederates.
But most Obamacare spending is in the form of entitlements, which can be changed only if Congress passes a new law, which isn't going to happen as long as Democrats control the Senate.
And though Americans dislike Obamacare, big majorities oppose shutting down the government to defund it, three polls last week made clear.
Obamacare can be defunded only if Republicans control both House and Senate, which can't happen until after the midterm elections. But if Obamacare is foremost on their minds when voters go to the polls, Democrats are likely to get a thrashing that rivals what the GOP suffered in 1930.
So it is Custer-at-Little-Big-Horn stupid for Republicans to shift attention from Obamacare by doing something Americans dislike almost as much.
Sen. Cruz is playing "kamikaze checkers," said "Tea Party patriot" Charles Hurt. His is an "Alice in Wonderland" strategy, said conservative columnist David Freddoso. It'll backfire and most likely make Obamacare permanent, said health care expert Avik Roy. Republicans "will end up sushi" if they follow Sen. Cruz's advice, said conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. "By making a futile and foredoomed attempt to defund Obamacare, (Cruz & co) have created the distraction that Obama so much needs," said Thomas Sowell.
Surely he knows this. After Harvard Law School, where Alan Dershowitz, one of his professors, described him as "off the charts brilliant," Ted Cruz clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He may be the smartest person ever to serve in the Senate. It's dismaying a man of such gifts uses them primarily to curry favor with the Brain-Dead Right (hereafter, BDR), which can't tell the difference between courage and reckless stupidity.
Republicans who don't embrace his doomed-to-fail strategy are cowards, Sen. Cruz implies. His rhetoric has created bad feeling in both the Senate and House. Hard-core conservatives for whom promoting Ted Cruz is not their highest priority fret about the damage he has done. But the BDR -- which regards as enemies allies who disagree with them in any way -- eats up his pseudo-machismo.
There came a time, I imagine, when Custer regretted not having counted the Indians before charging. But it was too late.
It's not too late for Republicans, who have a workable "long game" strategy to delay Obamacare, then to defund it. Perhaps now that he's wowed the BDR with his grandstanding, Sen. Cruz will stand in its way no longer.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1476).