John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Are You Tough Enough To Shut the Government Down?

Posted on August 8, 2013

Machismo plays a huge role in conservative politics and it tends to skew the political positioning within the Republican Conference in both the House and Senate.

I observed this first hand when I worked in the House Majority Whip Office when Tom DeLay was the whip.

DeLay liked to show how tough he was by brandishing a whip in the office.   He liked it when the narrative that flowed from his Capitol Hill office was that he was one tough hombre who would put maximum pressure on his colleague to vote his way on issues.

The truth of the matter was that DeLay was actually a pretty nice guy and very personable politician.  He rarely yelled at his colleagues and only once in a great while did he yell at his staff.

But DeLay liked to take the hard-line on political positions, and in the mind of many of his colleagues and of the media, that hard-line positioning made him a political tough guy.

The conservative movement loves to be tough, although if you go to a Conservative meeting, most of the attendees are eye-glass wearing nerds and geeks.

Some of the toughest Republicans I ever met were World War II war heroes.  They didn’t have to prove how tough they were because they proved it on the battlefield.  Bob Michel, my former boss, was wounded at the Battle of Bulge and proved how tough he was by killing Germans in the Ardennes Forest.   These World War II heroes weren't extremists.  They may have been conservative in their temperament, but not extremist in their ideology.

When I proudly talk about how I worked for a genuine American hero, the tough-guy conservatives in the so-called tough guy conservative movement call Mr. Michel a squish because he wasn’t tough enough to want to close the government down.

Being tough these days is the same thing as being politically stupid.

Damn the polls, damn the ratings, damn the torpedoes.  Let’s shut the government down, and if you don’t agree with me, you are a wimp.

Stick to your principles at all costs, even if that cost means doing irreparable damage to the reputation of the party.

Ronald Reagan, for many conservatives, exemplifies true toughness.  I like Reagan as much as the next guy, but let’s not kid ourselves.  Reagan was an actor!  He wasn’t a real cowboy.  He didn’t really play football at Notre Dame (although he did play at Eureka College).   He didn’t really fight the Nazis in World War II (unlike Jimmy Stewart, who was truly a war hero)

Reagan played a tough guy as an actor, and while he had his principles and his great one-liners, he wasn’t really that tough when it came to governing.  Reagan didn’t shut the government down.  Reagan didn’t cut spending.  Reagan even raised taxes a time or two.

I have been in meetings where Republicans like to show how tough they really are by showing how much money they can cut from welfare programs, but is it really “tough” to kick families off of food stamps (or the SNAP program, as they call it these days).

Tough these days means sticking to the Constitution as exactly dreamed up by the Founding Fathers.  Of course, back in those days, neither black Americans nor women could vote, so it was easier for the macho white man to get his way.

Those days are over my friends.

I am tired of being called a wimp and a squish because I want my party to do the responsible and politically rational thing.

I am tired of the macho men who think they can prove how “tough” they are by how long they can keep the government shut down.

That is not being tough.  That is being stupid.   And it is being immature.

The American people expect their elected representatives to do their jobs, to find honorable compromise, to govern, to make sure that the taxpayers’ hard-earned money is spent on the right things.

Obamacare is a bad law, and it should be repealed.   But it was passed by the Congress and signed by a President in a fully legal and fully transparent manner.  The President—the one who proposed the bill and who signed it into law -- was overwhelmingly reelected by the American people.

That’s called a referendum, my friends.

It is not only completely inappropriate to threaten to shut down the government to protest this law, it borders on scandalous.

And such tactics are affront to the Constitution that the Tea Party seems to adore so much.

It is not macho to go to such inappropriate lengths to try to get your way.  Those are the same kinds of tactics used by my 7 year old.

It's called a temper tantrum.  And it is not very politically attractive.