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Jane Ahlin, Published October 19 2013

Ahlin: In this game of can-kicking,common sense gets the boot

Best cartoon on the end of the 16-day government shutdown was done by The Forum’s own Trygve Olson. Published on Thursday, the cartoon showed a beat-up can with a face saying, “You think you’ve got it bad with a Congress that can’t come up with a budget agreement, how’d you like to be the can they keep kicking down the road!”

People, we are that can.

Start with the cost of the government shutdown, which Standard and Poor’s Rating Service estimates at $24 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.” (Note to tea partyers: That’s a conservative estimate.) Indeed, S&P, which has “over 1,400 credit analysts in 23 countries” and boasts “more than 150 years’ experience of assessing credit risk,” makes clear that the just-ended shutdown was a debacle and the specter of another one looming only 90 days down the road can’t help but be a wet blanket on economic recovery.

As reported by Steven Perlberg for Business Insider, not only did the shutdown take $24 billion out of the economy, but it’s also likely to take 0.6 percent off fourth-quarter Gross Domestic Product growth (a substantial number off the former estimate of 3 percent). And although it was essential for an agreement to be reached, the short-term nature of the agreement does not bode well for consumer confidence. As Perlberg put it, “That points to another humbug holiday season.”

Former presidential hopeful from Arizona, Sen. John McCain – who vehemently opposed the shutdown from the beginning – put it succinctly in calling the impasse fueled by the Oz-like zeal of tea party congressional delegates, “a fool’s errand.” Dismissing the notion of another shutdown when the agreement runs out, McCain said on NBC, “We intend to make it clear we cannot do this to the American people.”

Unfortunately, McCain does not speak for the ultra-right members of the GOP who appear unconnected to reality and happy to entertain economic chaos. With more than 140 of them in the House of Representatives voting for the shutdown, it’s no wonder they can’t stand McCain and he thinks they are ruining the Republican Party. They even tried to “primary” him in 2012 when he ran for re-election. (Sorry. As someone who touts good grammar, I know I shouldn’t encourage the use of yet another adjective as a verb.)

Of course, tea partyers hate The Wall Street Journal, too. Its role as premier conveyor of news and conservative opinion holds no water with the willfully unhinged. Even before the agreement was reached, WSJ editorial pages disparaged “the quality of thinking – or lack thereof – that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund Obamacare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.”

Indeed, business interests, for whom the WSJ is the daily bible, increasingly view tea party shenanigans – not as good sense or bad sense – only as nonsense that threatens America’s fragile recovery, not to mention business profits.

Put another way, Republicans don’t know what to do with their robust minority that has their party in a pickle.

The majority of today’s Republicans are nostalgic for Ronald Reagan and his morning-in-America/new-conservatism assurances of the 1980s. Reagan believed that the energy of the social conservatives and grass-roots tax and government haters could be embraced and controlled. Surprise, surprise, he was wrong. Well, ultimately he was wrong, although initially it worked. What he did not foresee – and the Karl Roves and Dick Cheneys were too arrogant to acknowledge – was that the ultra right-wingers had a strategy over time. Waiting worked; they are in charge.

In the meantime, the American people are tired of getting kicked down the road form one phony crisis to another. The cartoon is funny, but the situation isn’t.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.