Third parties win Battle of 55 Water St.

The Battle of 55 Water St. (that’s what I’m calling it) is finally over, and Washington evidently lost. You see, great struggles like the one we just witnessed in July and August must be given names, and most battles are given a moniker that is indicative of some prominent geographic place or topological feature, like the battles of Gettysburg or Bull Run that occurred in the long ago. But in our newfangled, CGI-imaged, cyber-simulated and virtual-reality-driven world, you can fight a battle in the District and the Virginia and Maryland suburbs that’s trying to capture a building in Lower Manhattan, the headquarters of Standard & Poor’s. Ah, wouldn’t Napoleon be impressed at our modern world?

As with any other battle, there are going to be winners and losers. Selecting these can take forever if you leave it to the intelligentsia. There is a cottage industry of Civil War historians that has been doing that for 150 years and will doubtless be busy for double that. But I want a rush to judgment on the armies and generals of Battle of 55 Water St. in order to identify some beneficiaries and failures in the next 300 words.

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The biggest losers have to be the congressional Democrats. Harry Reid got a lot of TV face-time during the struggle, and he looked mostly tired and lost, as if the conflict were overtaking him and his generalship needed to be retired to one of the academies to teach younger cadets. Nancy Pelosi was last seen through the dense smoke bemoaning loss in a confused ramble, mumbling over and over something about the richest Americans not being compelled to pay one more cent. Her performance was Oscar-worthy tragicomedy, if someone makes a documentary.

It’s hard to summarize President Obama’s role in the battle. In a video-game sort of way he kept popping up here and there, but didn’t really seem to be one of the real players. I think he knew this was headed to a defeat and he didn’t want to be the concussed loser of a brisk game of Whack-a-Mole, so he tried to stay out of the way. His initial instincts, that this would end badly, were confirmed. But his notion that he could limit his personal damage was naively wrong. Historians might one day view this battle’s loss as the beginning of the end for Mr. Yes We Can.

Though the New Yorkers at Standard & Poor’s eventually won the day, sticking their finger in Washington’s eye in spite of the compromise agreement, there were some field generals who covered themselves with glory on the field of battle. Republicans John Boehner and Mitch McConnell looked like they knew what they were doing, though in different ways, Boehner as the out-front guy, riding his blue-eyed horse up and down the lines trying to rally and coordinate his troops, while strategist McConnell worked his steady and experienced hand behind the lines, readying his votes for the final skirmishes.

The only winners in all this, besides the money-changers from Manhattan, might have been new or smaller political parties and independent candidates for president and Congress in the next election. Never have I seen Americans more frustrated with what passes for business-as-usual in Washington.

I don’t believe that most Americans have a robust and detailed sense of exactly what happened, but they do now possess a confirmed belief that the system is broken and needs replacement, not just repair. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, and surely not the White House, has the credibility to recast the conclusions Americans take away from the battle. The populace wants change, so whomever and whatever shows up under the banner of the “replacement party” will do well in 2012.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.

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