For a brief moment in time on Monday, it looked like Rep. Pete King (R-NY) might've attained enough moderate votes to pass a "clean" continuing resolution to finance the government for another six weeks without de-funding the Affordable Care Act. It was a glimpse into what a more rational Republican Party would look like if it were free of the cuckoo's nest influence of the irrational, extremist tea party flank.
Of course the effort only whipped up five Republican votes and, at midnight eastern time Tuesday morning, the U.S. government was partially shut down.
It's difficult to know what exactly the tea party intends get out of this other than a brief surge of energy from its base and zero new supporters, amounting to what can only be considered a lateral victory. Did they think there was going to be a fireworks display and free balloons at midnight?
Congratulations, tea party, you've successfully retained your Obama Derangement Syndrome suffering gaggle of loonies and conspiracy theorists. But you've also thoroughly alienated everyone else -- so much so that Democrats on Twitter were cheering for the comparatively "moderate" voice of Pete King.
Obamacare takes effect today. The government shutdown will eventually end, but only after hundreds of thousands government employees are furloughed without pay. Meanwhile, the president will continue to have a bully-er pulpit and a significantly higher approval rating than Congress, and so he'll be able to more effectively frame the shut down as an irresponsible Republican stunt. The tea party and, with it, the broader Republican Party will win nothing. And while the government is closed, uninsured Americans will begin to shop for health insurance plans in the various Affordable Care Act state marketplaces and, in the process, will discover how eye-poppingly affordable and comprehensive the policies are. Suddenly all of the "Obamacare has failed" talk will seem more ridiculous than it did on Monday; likewise, previously on-the-fence voters will begin to ask the trenchant question: why does this excellent thing need to be de-funded and repealed?
And that's the crux of the problem. There have been many government shut downs over the years, but they've never been predicated upon de-funding an entire law -- a law that was exhaustively legislated, adjudicated and approved by the voting public during a presidential election. And none of those previous shut downs were framed with such contradictory, specious terms.
Indeed, the tea party has bungled and botched its way through an utterly incoherent, ill-conceived strategy and its all-singing, all-dancing clown show will consequently taint the rest of the party as equally clownish -- just as it segues into a midterm election year.
On the other side of the aisle, it's probably a good time to highlight a broader lesson to be learned from this fracas. Democratic politicians, activists and voters alike would do well to pay attention to what's happening with the congressional Republicans. The shut down psychobomb is, in fact, a dangerous side-effect of what happens when the extreme flank of a party is given control beyond it's depth. Put another way: when too many wackadoodles run the caucus, the entire caucus looks equally as insane.
As Jonathan Chait wrote on Monday, following each of the last two elections, the GOP moved rightward, responding to increasingly loud screeching from the tea party. So it followed along under threat of the tea party turning its guns toward the party establishment. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, knows where its votes are: in the center-left and center. This is also why the far-left tends to despise the party establishment -- and here's to the party establishment for not allowing the far-left to call every shot. It's too easy to foresee, if roles ever become reversed, the exact same shut down scenario being precipitated by a would-be "emoprog" wing of the Democratic caucus which, perhaps, might put on a similar obstructionist show in order to de-fund NSA or, I don't know, nominate Glenn Greenwald for attorney general.
The Republican Party is suffering from a serious disease and it's dragging everyone else down with it. Until it can deactivate or at least geld the tea party, this will just keep happening and happening with increasingly lofty demands, relegating the semi-functioning democracy we once knew to a quaint historical relic.
So, fine, if the Republicans are incapable of behaving like responsible adults, then shut it down.
I'll be perusing my affordable health insurance options.