Many present-day Republicans seem bent on making "Backward, Christian Soldiers" their marching song in their relentless determination to "repeal and replace Obamacare," even to the point of repeating their lemming-like plunge over the cliff of another government shutdown.
More than 60 of them in the House and about a dozen in the Senate have signed letters by conservative GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina pledging to vote to defund President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, despite some party warnings of likely political suicide.
Among those leading the charge is 2016 presidential prospect Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who seems to be strutting on both sides of the ideological street, as he simultaneously supports immigration reform, which has orthodox GOP troops split.
Rubio is quoted in Politico as declaring: "If we're not going to have a red line in the sand on Obamacare, what will we have a red line on? For those who are saying it's not achievable, I would say to them, if it's not achievable it's because they are basically conceding defeat before they even try. ... I see it as Obama is threatening to shut down the government unless we fund Obamacare."
But conservative GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has warned that Mr. Obama certainly would veto such a repeal effort that would take a 67 votes in the Senate to override, and that "backbones don't hold long" after a government shutdown. The obvious reference is to former President Bill Clinton's successful stare-down of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1995 closure in which 800,000 workers were sent home for up to three weeks.
The GOP's lately resurrected maverick, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, agrees. "I've seen this movie before," he said. "Congress never wins. They try to shut down the Grand Canyon, we start hearing from our voters. ... (T)here's not a lot of Republicans that believe this is the right path." Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told Politico he also questioned the defunding tactic.
The latest conservative demand for killing Obamacare by fiscal starvation comes on the heels of the president's full-blown defense of his controversial health-care insurance plan in the first of a series of campaign-style speeches as full implementation goes forward this fall.
President Obama is hammering Republicans for their past and continuing obstructionism, especially in the House, as another round of legislative battles approaches over raising the federal debt ceiling and budget deficit reduction. In Galesburg, Ill., last week he threw down the gauntlet, declaring: "I will not allow gridlock, or inaction or willful indifference to get in the way."
He suggested a strengthened determination to call the GOP obstructionists' bluff by noting he will not be running again and hence has nothing to lose in holding his ground. Democratic liberals long unhappy with Mr. Obama's conciliatory tendencies could take from that declaration the hope he would emulate Bill Clinton in any rerun of the government shutdown, in which Mr. Gingrich surrendered.
Although the president's own favorable rating with the American public remains below a majority at 47.8 percent in the latest Gallup Poll, he remains much stronger than Congress, whose latest standing in the same poll has plunged to a deplorable 15 percent. Mr. Obama's overwhelming support from Hispanic and Asian voters in the last election, as well as fellow African-Americans, already weighs heavily on the minds of Republican political strategists.
But unpopularity of his health-care law also clings, endlessly fanned by the drumbeat of conservative rhetoric in and out of Congress, inspiring opponents of Obamacare to keep up the pressure for repeal, or at least defunding.
Surprisingly, President Obama himself on occasion has taken to use the label himself as measure of pride or at least hopefulness. In any event, "Obamacare" will continue to be a flashpoint as he and his most virulent critics approach this fall's latest budgetary combat. And the White House obviously hopes that if there is a next showdown over closing government services and facilities, this lame duck president will nevertheless prevail.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun