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Yesterday’s maverick is today’s Mr. Establishment

WASHINGTON — As congressional leaders depart the nation’s capital for a much-deserved five-week break, it is with a sense of relief and pride in accomplishment: A grand bargain budget that ends sequestration and makes rational spending cuts, a sane immigration reform package, and progress on a cost-cutting health care plan.
Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?
You know how it goes. You wake up smiling at the memory of love when you realize that the nose nuzzling your neck belongs to the dog that needs to go out. It is not, in fact, your birthday. And you have not, alas, been notified that a recently discovered document at Buckingham Palace identifies you as rightful heir to a vast fortune and several well-managed countries.
Which is to say, Congress went home without doing much of anything.
As everyone knows, Republicans are to blame. They are the obstructionists, the just-say-no enemies of women, immigrants, health care for the poor, shoes for the born and equality for gay whales, to mention a few.
This “narrative,” as they say, is pure propaganda. President Obama achieved huge legislative victories (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, bailouts, two Supreme Court appointments) when he had hefty majorities in Congress. Once those margins were lost or reduced in the 2010 election, the president’s focus shifted to scoring political points by shouting, “Obstruction!” In truth, no serious efforts have been made toward compromise because it is in neither side’s political interest.
This is not to say that the GOP is problem-free. Far from it. The tea party/libertarian express poses a serious threat to the party and, therefore, the nation. (Don’t we really want two healthy parties?) Then again, stepping back just a tad, what we’re witnessing is perhaps an inevitable generational realignment.

Think maverick.

Remember when John McCain was the bad boy, always going his own way? Thinking for himself? Talking candidly with the press? (Out of respect for seniority, we’ll lurch past his temporary lapse of judgment in 2008.)
Actually, McCain wasn’t that much of a maverick, a nickname first suggested in 1989 by Dan Casey, then executive director of the American Conservative Union, which consistently gave McCain respectable marks for conservative votes.
Today, as time would have it, McCain is Mr. Establishment. He not only lunches with the enemy but dines with the president. Isn’t this how life goes? Teenagers eventually grow up and become their parents. McCain is the GOP grandpa swatting at ankle-biting upstarts such as fellow Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
They are the new, out-of-the-box mavericks. And the squabbles that threaten to shut down the government come Oct. 1 may be part of a larger generational struggle to redefine the party. Suicide isn’t as catchy as “Winning!” — but, as Rush Limbaugh has suggested, at least it’s a stand.
Cruz and Paul, whom McCain once called “wacko birds,” have threatened to shut down the government unless Obamacare is defunded. (On Friday, McCain said that both Cruz and Paul would be “viable” presidential candidates in 2016. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but … something.
Obviously, Obama won’t sign off on a budget that defunds his chief achievement. But the alternative of Republicans reforming Obamacare isn’t appealing because they don’t want to help save it. The threatened shutdown, however, is more tilting at windmills than slingshots against giants.
Either Cruz and Paul have sincerely deluded themselves about the political consequences of a shutdown or, plausibly, they don’t really think they can cause a shutdown and would never have to suffer the consequences. Meanwhile, they make political points with the base by blaming the GOP “sellouts” when the establishment adults keep the trains running on time.
Even if these newbie mavericks were successful in their defunding effort, it would only be a temporary “win,” since funding comes up annually. Moreover, such a temporary victory would give Democrats a far-reaching advantage. Thereafter, responsibility for any dissatisfaction with the health care system would shift to the GOP.

Alternatively, the old maverick could prevail.
Dropping from his cockpit, the flight-suited McCain strides toward the microphone, pausing briefly to high-five wingman Lindsey Graham and crew member Kelly (Ayotte, not McGillis), and announces:
“We passed a bipartisan budget today that ends sequestration, includes significant spending cuts and a tax overhaul. Eleven million illegal immigrants have been invited to become legal residents and begin a rigorous path toward citizenship. We have accepted Disney World’s offer to revamp the nation’s infrastructure and mass transportation systems. With the president’s blessing, Switzerland has agreed to fix Obamacare. That’s it. Enjoy the rest of your summer.”
In our dreams.

Email: kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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