R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to the Tea Party

I'm always reluctant to make too much of any particular off-the-cuff statement a politician makes, to play that game where people on the other side say, "Aha! You have revealed yourself to the be the scoundrel we always knew you were, and this is the proof!" But sometimes, politicians do say revealing things, particularly in a situation like the one we're in now, where the outcome of a controversy that is already affecting millions of people and could threaten the entire economy is dependent on things like hurt feelings and the desire to feel like you won.

So the quote of the day comes from this article in the Washington Examiner, in which a Tea Party congressman sums up nicely the fight over the government shutdown:

"We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

And there you have it. The part that's most important isn't that Stutzman doesn't know what they want, because I think all he's saying is that it could be any number of things. Maybe it could be a delay in implementing the Affordable Care Act, or maybe tossing some people off food stamps, or maybe providing Tea Party caucus members with a list of phone numbers of uninsured poor people, so they could call them up, shout "Get a job, deadbeat!" and hang up—whatever. But what really matters is the part about being disrespected. Later in the article, we get something related from Tom Cole, an Oklahoma congressman: "'Why in the world would you do that?' Cole said of the clean funding bill. 'That’s basically, at this point, a surrender to the Democratic position.'" A surrender is humiliating. As far as they're concerned, whatever the resolution of the shutdown is, what matters is that it allows them to feel like they won, or at the very least to save face.

Which isn't all that surprising. But is it possible? Maybe, but it's extremely unlikely. Keep in mind that for these Tea Partiers, the substance of policy is not particularly important; what matters now is being able to tell themselves and their constituents that they stuck it to Barack Obama. You could, say, repeal the medical device tax, which they dislike because it's a tax and because it has to do with Obamacare. So they might be able to call that a victory and argue that they got their pound of flesh, so the whole thing was worth it. The trouble is that the President and the Senate aren't going to give in to this blackmail.

So right now, the Tea Partiers are besieged on all sides. The President is against them, both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are against them, many of their colleagues in the House are against them, and the press is (in large part anyway) explaining to the public that the shutdown is happening because of them. But that doesn't make it any more likely that they'll give way on their demands. This kind of situation, where they believe they're brave fighters for principle standing up against entrenched power, is what they live for. That's why Michele Bachmann says, "This is about the happiest I've seen members in a long time, because we see we are starting to win this dialogue on a national level."

We have to keep reminding ourselves that the shutdown could end any time John Boehner wants. It could be over this afternoon. As he is well aware, there's more than an ample majority in the House, made up of both Republicans and Democrats, to pass the clean continuing resolution. Boehner won't allow it to be voted on, however, because that would make people like Stutzman mad at him. He's going to do it eventually, though, because that's the only way this whole thing ends. The only question is how much damage is done between now and then, all because the most radical members of Congress need to feel like they gave Barack Obama the finger.

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