According to Standard & Poor’s estimates, the government shutdown may have cost the economy $24 billion and shaved 0.6 points off the fourth-quarter GDP. But the full damage will be assessed in months to come and is probably going to be even greater. Government employees have been furloughed for 16 days, scraping by, eating ramen noodles, putting off their purchases, and dipping into their meager savings. Thankfully, they will be reimbursed for their time. Businesses lost revenue, which would be ironic if it weren’t so tragic. The very party that claims to be the most business-friendly brought damage to its very constituents (and their very donors).
And all of this for what? The only clear winner in this whole debacle is Ted Cruz’s career. The freshman senator whom no one had heard of 12 months ago, has now raised nearly $800,000 and has become a household name. While we might sympathize with a politician’s zeal for fundraising, for Pete’s sake, could Cruz perhaps have found a cheaper way to do it? Is $800,000 in the bank for Ted Cruz worth the $24 billion lost to the economy? Republicans used to worry about taxpayers' money, but in their feverish efforts to demonstrate to us how frugal they are and how much they hate spending they decided to wreck the entire household. Just in case we weren’t paying attention.
Ted Cruz's self-promotion plan cost us all $24 billion. As an extortion strategy, the tactic of the government shutdown has been completely discredited: Obamacare is still the law of the land and is still being funded, and having learned their lesson, it's unlikely that the Republicans will try this again in February. Furthermore, a provision was put into Wednesday's bill that creates a mechanism neutering a possible future debt ceiling standoff. The president now has veto power over the refusal of Congress to raise the debt ceiling, and if the Congress still wants the debt ceiling breached it would need a two-thirds vote to to override the president's veto.
Meanwhile, the entire original raison d’etre for Tea Party’s existence seems to be disappearing. The budget deficit has been dropping like a stone, mostly thanks to slightly higher revenues and automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. More spending cuts will only slow job growth and overall recovery. But we shouldn’t underestimate the far right’s ability to come up with new contrived grievances and we shouldn’t expect the Tea Party to accept defeat and exit the stage. Senseless grandstanding, or as Felix Salmon calls it “revolutionary nihilism,” has been shown to be a resilient force in U.S. politics and a great platform for self-promoters. How can we be sure that yet another Ted Cruz won’t be encouraged to self-aggrandize and fundraise off of a manufactured crisis?
How can we also be sure that the loss won’t make the Tea Party caucus even more entrenched in its ideology and intransigence? In his recent column conservative Ross Douthat compares the GOP to Colonel Kurtz, the demented fugitive in the film Apocalypse Now. Perhaps an even better analogy would be to compare the Tea Party to the villagers in the film. Col. Kurtz revealed something profound to Captain Willard about the adversaries the Americans were fighting deep in the jungle: It's hard to undermine someone who has no judgment. One can’t just go into the jungle with the intention of vaccinating little children from polio if the villagers are prepared to cut off their own children’s little arms.