How to Neuter a Crossing Guard
This is for my conservative friends who are celebrating the healthcare bill’s demise. You’ll want to read it all.
Let’s begin with a little story about a crossing guard.
Imagine you are standing at a dangerous intersection now. Cars whizzing by nonstop in all 4 directions. You feel powerless and frustrated. There are no structural safeguards, no physical barriers, to keep us from getting hit. There is a crossing guard, though.
This crossing guard can get us safely through the intersection if the drivers respect his authority and power. Only if they stop when he raises his hand. That’s all he’s got.
Those drivers take cues from each other. When they see other drivers stop, they stop, too. But when they see one driver run through the crossing guard’s stop sign, they all feel more emboldened to do the same.
Pretty soon, the crossing guard is just another poor slob standing on the side of the road with the rest of us. And none of us can get where we want to go.
In a moment, I’ll talk about the healthcare bill. But, first, I want to talk about breathing.
You Think Like You Breathe
Notice your breath for a moment. Are you breathing fast and shallow or slow and deep? Breathing is so important. Breathing affects our hormones and hormones affect our thinking. We can change our thinking by changing our breathing, and we can change breathing by changing our thinking.
Slow deep breaths cause the body to produce less cortisol. Fast, shallow breathing produces more cortisol. Cortisol causes weight gain, hardening of the arteries, and defensive thinking. The part of the brain where memories and strategy rest, the hippocampus, shuts down when cortisol levels rise. We react to the immediate stimuli without using our most valuable and effective knowledge. We become like animals snared in a trap.
That cortisol hormone does a good job of keeping us alive when we’re in extreme danger. But it does a huge disservice when we’re not under physical attack. In real danger, we don’t want to think deep thoughts. We want to hide, overpower our attacker, or run away.
Now that you’re aware of your breathing, you realize you’re not in physical danger. A tweet can’t really endanger you personally, can it?
The big enemy we all oppose here is big government. And we all know the bill Ryan crafted in the dark did little in that regard. So there was good reason to oppose that bill.
But there is also something larger at play here, and if you breathe slow and deep, you might feel better about a lot of things today.
Actions Have Consequences We Sometimes Don’t Consider
Remember how you felt on November 9? And remember how you felt on January 20. Remember seeing all those violent protesters in Washington and other places? Which team were you on then? Maybe you didn’t say anything, but you were probably on Trump’s team. You were probably a little proud and amazed that he did it. Despite all the doubts and all the MSM 98% certainty that Hillary Clinton would choose Antonin Scalia’s replacement, you were happy to be on the winning team.
You might find yourself breathing even deeper now just thinking about that winning day. We tend to take a deep breath when we win.
That inauguration day was less than 70 days ago, so the memory is still fresh in your mind. Then, you probably expected all kinds of great things. With a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican President, we could do a lot to realize our dreams of smaller government and a growing economy. Who doesn’t want to make America great again?
And then some Congress people reverted to their old ways. Bills written by lobbyists. But that’s not the worst thing that could happen.
Now imagine this: imagine if Neil Gorsuch gets rejected by the Senate. Imagine one or two squishy Republican Senators like Susan Collins deciding Trump doesn’t have the political power anymore to hold her vote. Imagine if Mitch McConnell decides, after that healthcare vote, that it’s too risky to use the nuclear option on Gorsuch. There’s no going back from that option, really. The next Democrat president will have it, too, just as Trump’s cabinet benefits from the Democrats’ nuclear option.
Many people are saying the health care bill’s failure has greatly reduced Trump’s power. He might already be a lame duck, along with this Congress.
If you’re breathing faster and shallower now, just pay attention to your breathing. You will start to breathe slower and deeper in a moment. And that’s important because you don’t want a lot of cortisol clogging your arteries and shutting down your hippocampus.
Consequences We Might Own
Blocking the healthcare bill was a high stakes gamble. It took a lot of courage to fight against a president in his first 100 days. I can’t remember a newly inaugurated president getting hit so hard so early in his administration. Reagan suffered a few setbacks, but nothing like this.
It’s very likely now that Obamacare will live forever. At least as long as you and I are alive. It’s also possible that there will be no tax reform. Do you think 8 Democrats are so afraid of the White House that they’ll break with their party to vote for cloture on a tax reform package now? How do you see that happening?
It’s also possible that Gorsuch will be rejected, either because some squishy Republicans bail or because McConnell loses the nerve to change the filibuster rule. That means those Obama and Clinton judges in the appellate courts will decide the law until Trump finds a Supreme Court candidate so “moderate” that 8 Democrats will support them. How do you think such a justice would rule on abortion, on gun control, and on immigration?
And if this Congress and this Republican president do nothing major between now and 2018, how do you expect voters to keep this Congress in power? Trump won because he recognized that many people think America is in bad shape and going in the wrong direction. They expected Trump and Congress to change the direction of the country. If nothing gets done, won’t they try something new? Remember, most voters are not like you and me. Most voters don’t care about our principles. And in-fighting among Republicans only makes them care less about those principles. To the average American voter, we all sound strange and abstract. To the average voter, we care more about academic theories than we do about their lives. You can probably remember hearing this from people yourself if you think about it.
How’s your breath going? Just take a deep breath and feel your stomach swell out. You’ll want access to your memories soon.
Our Crossing Guard and Our Accountability
Now, remember that crossing guard? The Freedom Caucus and some conservative think tanks drove the first car through the stop sign. If the other drivers—McConnell, Collins, Schumer—see there’s no consequence to ignoring the crossing guard, we’ll all fail to get where we’re going.
Maybe we don’t like the way the crossing guard distributes the stopping and going. Maybe we don’t like the hand signals he uses. But, until Friday, he was at least trying to get a few of us to the other side. He was trying to get some of us a little closer to our destinations safely.
Maybe that crossing guard will get some of his power back. Because principles without power are just platitudes. I hope so. I know of all the great things the Heritage Foundation and the Freedom Caucus have done. But neither Heritage nor the Freedom Caucus can stop that traffic without a strong, respected crossing guard.
You, like me, believe in accountability. And you, like me, recognize that accountability begins with ourselves. When we choose a direction, we must accept the consequences of our choice. Conservatives may have laid the foundation for Democrats retaking Congress in 2018. If that happens, the Freedom Caucus, Heritage, and Club for Growth own at least 40 percent of the blame.
I now return you to your natural breathing.