BRANDON: A gift from the federal shutdown

Americans relearned that big government is nonessential

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Looking back, 2013 was a year filled with high drama in American politics. From marathon filibusters and floor speeches protesting drone strikes and Obamacare, to the seemingly endless parade of scandals coming out of the Obama White House culminating in the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.gov, it has been one “exciting” moment after another. Perhaps the event that provided the most fodder for the media, however, was the brief but memorable government “shutdown” in October.

Republicans were quick to argue that President Obama and the Senate Democrats held the government hostage, by refusing to remove funding for Obamacare from the budget. On the other side, progressive commentators heralded the shutdown as the end of the Republican Party. They called the Tea Party “domestic terrorists” and “extremists,” who were willing to destroy everything in order to get their way.

After a couple of weeks, anarchy had remarkably failed to grip the nation. No one was rioting. Garbage was not piling up in the streets. Apart from some glaring political attempts by the administration to inflict shutdown pain (such as denying World War II veterans the opportunity to visit their own memorial), nobody really seemed to notice that the government had lost, ever so slightly, its grip on the nation.

On the Mall, activists from the around the country showed up for a day of service, eager to pick up the slack left by defunded maintenance workers. The efforts of unpaid volunteers to keep the nation’s capital clean and presentable demonstrated the power of community action, and the redundancy of much federal spending. The shutdown was not turning out to be the apocalyptic crisis predicted by the mainstream press.

In hindsight, the shutdown may have been a very important moment for Republicans — and not in the way the Democrats think.

It’s important to remember why freedom-party Republicans were willing to take such a hard line in the face of insurmountable odds and a hostile media. The fight to defund Obamacare was born out of a deep understanding of the harm the law is capable of inflicting. At the time, it was easy to dismiss this position as partisan scaremongering. However, now that we’ve begun to witness the law’s disastrous implementation, the Tea Party’s warnings do not seem so far-fetched.

To date, 5.6 million people have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies. When the employer mandate kicks in, that number is expected to soar to as much as 100 million. The cronyism, dishonesty and outright incompetence accompanying the rollout have been even worse than we imagined, and things are unlikely to get better anytime soon.

The dangers of Obamacare are no longer predictions. Premium increases and lost jobs are no longer being discussed in the abstract. The junior Republican senators who stood on principle when it counted and kept their promises to fight the broken health care law on every front will not be viewed in hindsight as partisan obstructionists, but rather as heroes.

Whether the lines drawn during this year’s major policy battles will ultimately translate into 2014 primary upgrades remains to be seen. If nothing else, though, the government shutdown punched a gaping hole in the progressive dogma that we need to keep expanding government or else society will collapse. For two weeks in October, Americans were reminded that we need the state less than we realized, and that we are perfectly able to take care of ourselves — and of each other.

That lesson, along with all that it implies, is priceless.

Adam Brandon is executive vice president of FreedomWorks.

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