As someone who leans libertarian in a lot of areas, I’ve been asked if I was happy about the recent government shutdown and gridlock over the debt ceiling. Just so we’re clear, I think it’s unacceptable that our government operates at a sizable deficit when it already owes around 75% of what the entire country produces in a year. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and lately the “conservative” contingent in Congress has been doing things all wrong. Some on the right defend the Tea Party’s scorched earth tactics, citing Democrats’ unwillingness to compromise on entitlements and the fact that the Tea Party candidates’ constituents elected them to be tough on government spending and growth. I get that, and I suppose there’s a point at which the situation is so dire that a “win at all costs” approach is our final option. But the problem is that such an approach is almost certainly destined to fail if employed by a shrinking minority of stubborn partisans.
Those who sympathize with the Tea Party ideals of limited government and a balanced budget need to be realistic about the way they engage those who disagree. Our goal should not be short-term victories won only by using hardball tactics and alienating everyone who either disagrees or doesn’t understand our position. While this may slow the bleeding for a year or two, if it comes at the cost of eroding popular support, it will have been a won battle but a lost war.