My real question is: Why did the Republicans in the House of Representatives think they could get away with it?
Why did they shut down the government for no reason? Did they really think President Obama was going to gut his health-care law, the law that will guarantee his place in history, the law that Democrats have been trying to enact for almost a century?
Why did they think they could shut down the government, causing untold misery for millions of Americans, and not pay a price?
My guess is that there is a certain faction of the party that truly believes Obama is weak. They look at his past record of compromise and see it as a sign of weakness.
Bullies always despise those who don't stand up to them and these Tea Party champions are bullies.
The problem with their position is that Obama is not weak. If you look at his record of achievement, it is pretty incredible. He ended the recession, rebuilt the economy, established a new relationship with gay and lesbian Americans and, most monumental, passed a law giving new health care security to millions who previously didn't have it.
He did so in the face of unrelenting hostility from Republicans. The very night he was inaugurated, a group of prominent conservatives, including our own Paul Ryan, met to discuss ways to make him a failure. There wasn't even any legislation for them to oppose; they just wanted to destroy his presidency.
It didn't work, obviously. It damaged the country by making recovery from the recession slower and less effective than it might otherwise have been. But, Obama was reelected. What the Ryan effort did accomplish, however, was a Republican takeover in 2010. And what it did accomplish was the birth of the Tea Party. Now, the Tea Party threatens to destroy the GOP.
It goaded Speaker John Boehner into abandoning an agreement to fund the government at a level even lower than that Ryan proposed a year ago. It insisted that any Republican unwilling to close the government could kiss his future goodbye.
It has identified the Republican Party with those who won't accept the scientific consensus on climate change, with those who would prohibit abortion, even to women who are raped, with those who would deny food stamps to hungry Americans and medical care to poor Americans.
But the biggest damage the Tea Party did to Republicans was to convince them President Obama was weak.
Compromise is not a sign of weakness. It is a bargaining technique. You compromise in order to get as much of your program enacted as you can.
Obama didn't want a government shutdown – no matter how it turns out, it will have harmed our economy. He agreed to vastly inadequate funding for the federal government because he thought it would avert a shutdown.
But, when it didn't, he had nothing left to give.
And, as it turned out, those who opposed him had no real program in mind. First, they insisted he abandon health care. Now, they're talking about reimposing the Ryan budget that was rejected in last year's election. They don't even know what they want.
Except to avoid being humiliated in public.
That's the problem with bullies. They turn out to be weak.