Opinion and Taking Issue

RUSTHOVEN: Coats is GOP voice of sanity

October 26, 2013

RusthovenIn 1957, then-Sen. John Kennedy published “Profiles in Courage,” chronicling stories of senators who (in Kennedy’s rendition) risked careers to do the right thing in the face of political pressure. Eleanor Roosevelt, who thought JFK more a show horse than a work horse, remarked that Kennedy himself needed “less profile and more courage.”

Sen. Dan Coats is no show horse, and (unlike many) devotes scant attention to raising his profile. He’s also displaying courage in the current war for the future of the Republican Party, in which the government shutdown engineered by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and like-minded GOP House members is the latest battle.

No serious person questions Coats’ conservative convictions or principles. This includes outspoken opposition to Obamacare, whose disastrous public launch portends the fiasco to come. But Coats publicly refuses to take the Cruz line, which insisted on defunding Obamacare as the condition for keeping the government open or raising the debt limit.

For this, Coats is taking heat from those on the right who view Cruz et al. as “real” conservatives, surrounded by RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and other “traitors” to the conservative cause. It’s a view encouraged by Cruz and his cohorts, who are adept at channeling understandable frustration about Washington and the president into self-defeating paths.

Self-defeating, that is, save for those like Cruz, who are all about raising their personal profiles (and the funds with which to do so). But for Republicans like Coats who take conservative principles seriously—who actually want to change the country’s direction—the Cruz approach is beyond quixotic. It’s destructive to the very causes it purports to champion.

A new Washington Post-ABC poll shows eight in 10 Americans disapproved of the shutdown (including two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents).

Only 32 percent now view the GOP favorably; 63 percent see it unfavorably (with two-thirds of these having a “strongly unfavorable” view). Disapproval of GOP handling of the shutdown moved from 63 percent on Day One to 77 percent at its end. Meanwhile, the polls show growing divides within the party itself.

All this cries out for responsible, adult leadership by GOP conservatives. It was discouraging, Coats notes, that outside groups supporting the shutdown devoted their efforts “to attacking Republicans rather than putting pressure on Democrats.”

Discouraging, and foolish: “Why are we attacking each other? We ought to be focusing our displeasure towards the president and the Democrats.”

As Coats and other grownups understand, the reason is not scoring partisan points against the president or other Democrats. Our country faces enormous problems. These include reversing tax and regulatory policies that cripple private economic growth and job creation, without which nothing else is possible. They include unsustainable entitlements, which the president and many Democrats are unwilling to address in any meaningful way.

And yes, they include Obamacare, a massively intrusive, disruptive, costly disaster that is destroying jobs; making health care and insurance more expensive; and eliminating existing plans the president promised would be untouched.

Repealing and replacing Obamacare requires GOP control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

In the Senate, the “purist” approach Cruz personifies has already cost the party at least five seats (including one in Indiana). That approach continues to drive away otherwise persuadable Americans, playing into media and opposition efforts to portray Republicans as incapable of governing.

Coats defies that image, which now takes courage to do. We need more like him.•

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Rusthoven, an Indianapolis attorney and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was associate counsel to President Reagan. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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