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Opinion

October 19, 2013

Shribman: When to hold 'em, when to fold 'em

(Continued)

Only a very few would create a moral equivalency between the drive to defeat Hitler and the drive to defeat Obamacare; there is a legitimate case to be made for proportion and for distinctions made on ethical grounds, for there is a grave difference between government-mandated insurance and government-sponsored genocide. But in questions of acknowledged lesser consequence, it is not as easy as the tea party critics say it is to draw the line between resistance and intransigence.

— When does the practical trump the principle?

From the start, Sen. John McCain of Arizona told his Republican colleagues that their effort was doomed to fail, that their one-House challenge to Obamacare was quixotic but doomed. “We were demanding something that was not achievable,” he said in exasperation Tuesday night as he declared the GOP had “lost this battle.”

His words had greater force after a fortnight of struggle than they did at the beginning of the capital confrontation. And, yet ,many of the House rebels believed fervently that they had to undertake this battle, that to bow to the practical was to sacrifice the principle.

This is an enduring theme, and not only in conservative circles. Throughout the late 1980s, after two terms of Reaganomics, some conservatives argued that the only thing wrong with supply-side economics was that it hadn’t been tried yet. In more recent days, Republican political figures have argued that the GOP’s repeated retreat to the center in presidential elections (nominating Sen. Robert Dole in 1996 or former Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012) had won the party nothing but defeat.

Often, such arguments have been no more resonant than the bleats from academic socialists and communists that pure Marxism has yet to be attempted and that their cause has been besmirched by leaders like Lenin and Stalin, who warped a precious principle and were tyrants and not ideologues.

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