I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair. It isn't that this shutdown won't be resolved, because it will. It will be resolved in the only way it can: when John Boehner allows a vote on a "clean CR," a continuing resolution that funds the government without attacking the Affordable Care Act. It could happen in a week or two, whenever the political cost of the shutdown becomes high enough for Boehner to finally find the courage to say no to the Tea Partiers in his caucus. That CR will pass with mostly Democratic votes, and maybe the result will be a revolt against Boehner that leads to him losing the speakership (or maybe not; as some have argued, Boehner's job could be safe simply because no one else could possibly want it).
But the reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the period of lurching from absurd crisis to absurd crisis, with no possibility of passing a budget let alone legislation to address any serious problems we face, with a cowardly Republican leadership held hostage by a group of insane political terrorists who think it's a tragedy if a poor person gets health insurance and it's a great day when you kick a kid off food stamps, a period where this collection of extremists and fools, these people who think the likes of Michele Bachmann and Steve King are noble and wise leaders—this awful, horrific period in our history, when these are the people who control the country's fate, looks like it will never end.
OK, so "never" is an exaggeration. But does anyone see how it could end as long as there's a Democrat in the White House, whether it's Barack Obama or anyone else? Once the shutdown is over, we're going to do it all over again with the debt ceiling in less than three weeks. And the CRs the House and Senate are passing back and forth now only fund the government for six weeks, meaning we could have a shutdown, followed by a debt ceiling crisis, followed by another shutdown. Whenever the next CR expires, we'll do it again, and we'll do it again the next time the debt ceiling has to be raised.
According to conservative reporter Byron York, this whole thing is being driven by 30 of the most radical GOP House members. And nothing will convince them that what they're doing is crazy and wrong. Nothing. They're zealots. They don't care if the country suffers and they don't care if their party suffers. They have an ideology that tells them that the only important things are fighting government and fighting Barack Obama, by any means necessary. If you can't win at the ballot box, and you can't win in the ordinary legislative process, and you can't win at the Supreme Court, then it'll have to be blackmail. And if that doesn't work, then they'll find some other method.
In June of last year, Obama expressed the belief that if he was re-elected, "the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that." Once booting him from office was no longer a possibility, they'd settle down and oppose him in the ordinary way opposition parties oppose presidents, not in this insane berserker rage they've been gripped by since January of 2009. I don't know if he actually believed that, or if he was just trying to be optimistic. But it was never going to happen. That's not only because of their white-hot hatred of him, but also because, generally speaking, the crazier a Republican member of Congress is, the less they have to worry about political consequences from their craziness. The most radical members come from the most conservative districts, where the only question determining who gets elected is which candidate in a Republican primary is the most extreme, hates Barack Obama the most, and can talk with the most contempt about liberals and government and all the "thems" his constituents despise so much.
And even if the shutdown turns out to be a disaster for the GOP as a whole, those Tea Party members are going to be 100 percent sure that the only problem was that Republicans didn't fight hard enough. They'll come out of it more convinced than ever that government is evil and Democrats are the enemies of all that is right and good, and the good Lord himself put them in Congress to fight liberals and obstruct Obama and undermine government and scratch and bite and kick and scream. And that's what they're going to continue to do as long as they are privileged to serve.
Their fever will never break. Never. The only thing that will give it a temporary respite is if a Republican becomes president, at which time they'll decide that crises aren't such a great tool after all. Their nihilistic rage will be put away, behind a glass door with the words "Break in case of Democratic president" written on it. And then it will start all over again.