Smith: By the numbers: Arguing the wrong point

Smith: By the numbers: Arguing the wrong point

October 21st, 2013 by By Robin Smith in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith

Robin Smith

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

After witnessing the recent dysfunction in Washington, D.C., a few facts must be understood.

1. In the U.S. House of Representatives members represent Congressional districts drawn to favor one partisan stripe over the other. Most districts favor a solid conservative base or a solid liberal base with fewer and fewer "swing" districts. Therefore, the House is comprised of more politically polarized members.

2. In the U.S. Senate, members represent an entire state. The Senate, by its very nature, is less polarized, less partisan.

3. Natural conflict between the two legislative chambers will exist if the two bodies are under opposite partisan control.

The U.S. House has 232 GOP members, the Democrats have 200 members with three vacancies. In the Senate, there are 52 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 46 Republicans. Don't you agree the math adds up to natural opposition?

The 16-day shutdown of the federal government should've been driven by vigorous debate about spending cuts and budget caps. The dialogue was, instead, redirected away from spending and printing more money (devaluing what we earn) or dealing with the absence of fiscal responsibility that has our nation in a legitimate crisis.

The idea was to appeal to folks like me, who adamantly oppose the Affordable Care Act, to mobilize efforts toward a secondary issue; to harness the public's dislike of the failing health insurance program. The desired outcome, defunding of the ACA, displaced the actual issue at hand -- to cut spending and reduce our debt.

Republicans, offering accurate and sincere debate, didn't have the ability to accomplish this goal.

When I was a little girl, I stayed with a woman who lived across the street from the Georgia Rug Mill, where my mom worked. Mrs. Pettyjohn kept me and two other children while our parents worked. Once weekly, we were treated to a Double-Cola served with our lunch, split three ways. The "jelly-jar" glasses would tinkle with a few ice cubes and fizz of the soft drink.

One day, I decided I wanted the bottle with my portion of Double-Cola, and not the jelly-jar glass. I begged, whined and made quite a production of my desire offering who-knows-what justification to win the argument.

Exasperated, Mrs. Pettyjohn took the glass of soft drink and slung it onto the floor as I protested. There are all sorts of psychoanalysis that could be offered here, but the fact remains that I drank water while my other pre-school pals drank Double-Cola.

I lost despite my impassioned pleas because I was not in the position to win.

Last Wednesday, the very day that ended the "shutdown," the leader of one of the key conservative groups who demanded the GOP support only efforts that addressed the ACA finally admitted on Fox News: "Everybody understands that we're not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House."

In the meantime, has any spending been cut? Do we have a fiscally responsible budget? Is the value of our currency stronger?

Lady Margaret Thatcher once said, "You must first win the argument, then you win the vote."

But the argument was about cutting spending and reducing our nation's cancerous debt.

It matters who governs ... but you have to win elections to get the chance.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.