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September 27, 2013 9:34 AM When You Are On Fire….

By Ed Kilgore

It must be difficult to be a Democratic Member of Congress right now. You are perpetually on call to put out a fire your Republican colleagues are determined to set, but they can’t make up their minds whether to burn down the house or the whole neighborhood.

Originally John Boehner wanted to give his charges the chance for an extended temper tantrum about Obamacare timed to conclude when the moment arrived to keep the federal government functioning, perhaps with a bit less money. Nope, that wasn’t sufficient. So the GOP headed directly towards a government shutdown, until Boehner and company looked about two inches beyond their own noses and saw that the public was (tragically) more tolerant towards a debt limit default threat than a shutdown. So the House GOP leaders moved in that direction. But they soon discovered getting the entire House GOP to vote for a debt limit increase would require a measure that incarnated every conservative policy fantasy in sight, and they are still struggling to get the votes. So now they may throw some sand in the gears of the continuing appropriations resolution and perhaps generate a mini-shutdown as a tonic to the troops, and hope that between the appropriations and debt limit measures they can slake the destructive furies of the Republican Party and its often-caustic right-wing chorus, and maybe even mark up a victory or two if Democrats conclude concessions are better than economy-wreaking chaos.

But at the moment, chaos reigns.

Even the jaded fans of pointless drama at Politico seem to think it’s out of control, per a Sherman/Bresnahan report:

Boehner and his team have now cycled through three fiscal strategies in about as many weeks, as rank-and-file Republicans jump from one approach to another in a so-far losing effort to emerge victorious from a budget showdown with President Barack Obama and the Democrats.
Now it’s on to “Plan C,” or whatever Republicans call this third iteration of government funding-debt ceiling strategy….
At this point, it’s difficult to conclusively determine where all the House GOP’s maneuvering and false starts will end.

I’m beginning to wonder if the whole idea is to convince Democrats that they need to consult abnormal psychology textbooks every time they deal with a fresh GOP demand.

Back when I worked for (pre-apostasy) Zell Miller, a very sensitive internal political memo laying out Zell’s secret re-election year agenda got accidentally taken off a fax machine at an out-of-state governors’ conference and handed to a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was all so weird and unlikely that the big story wasn’t what was in the document, but that Zell’s minions had gone to such lengths to leak it. “This is great,” I recall a colleague saying with real enthusiasm. “They think we’re completely crazy.”

Being completely out of control does create some leverage, particularly if the firebug is willing to set fire to himself (“When you are on fire,” Richard Pryor famously observed after nearly incinerating himself in a freebase cocaine accident, “people get out of your way.”). So people start thinking about making concessions they wouldn’t otherwise consider, or contemplating scenarios they wouldn’t otherwise entertain. As Ezra Klein said with disgust this morning:

It’s a mark of the insane and reckless turn in our politics that shutting down the government so one of our to major political parties can get the brinksmanship out of its system is emerging as the sober, responsible thing to do. But here we are, greatest nation the world has ever known.

Today’s Republicans really do make America exceptional. But I don’t know exactly how much pyromania we are expected to accept.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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