Monday, September 30, 2013

Tea Party’s Day to Gloat

Unless I miss my guess, today will be the Tea Party’s day to gloat. The Tea Party contingent of the House looked a little too gleeful on Saturday at the prospect of shutting down the U.S. government for an extended period, and if they were cheering out loud on Saturday, they must be positively giddy today. At the risk of paraphrasing, the sentiment seems to be, “They thought we were a flash in the pan, but now we are on the verge of bringing the most powerful country in the world to its knees!” The fantasy of shutting down the government for the whole fiscal year and having ordinary citizens and military families especially (those on active duty must continue to serve during the shutdown but will not be paid) begging for mercy is still alive at this point, and as long as that fantasy is the biggest thing happening, I think it is important to give the Tea Party their day in the sun. Reality will set in soon enough.

Politically, a government shutdown cannot last for months the way Republican political strategists drew it up. With no government, there is no pork-barrel politics, and without that, House members collectively lose much of their influence and financial support. Whether the shutdown is avoided at midnight tonight or lasts for a few days or weeks, the House has already lost much of its credibility from this episode. In the end it may stand as a turning point in American politics, perhaps even, we can hope, leading to a change in the budget process. But all that will come later. Today, there is no need to tell the Tea Party any of this.