These tea partiers have ruined America

It is hard to remember a more dismal moment in American politics. The debt-ceiling crisis and the agreement that ended it point to deep dysfunction in our system. In a variety of ways, the episode portends continued short-term economic misery and long-term national decline. It’s as if the United States chose at the last minute not to commit financial suicide—but only out of preference for a slower, more excruciating form of self-destruction…

We now also understand that we’re not going to make meaningful investments in our economic future. The conservative position that all spending is evil obliterates any distinction between investment and consumption, between the long-term and the short-term. The United States suffers with an increasingly third-world level of infrastructure, a third-tier education system, and enormous gaps in the preparedness of its workforce. The debate has now ended: Money to upgrade those faltering systems will not be forthcoming. And by the way, the United States isn’t going to take on any other major problems either—immigration, tax reform, or climate change, for example. It isn’t going to do so for the same reason it has failed at sensible economic management: because the Tea Party has a veto…

At the level of political culture, we have learned some other sobering lessons: that compromise is dead and that there’s no point trying to explain complicated matters to the American people. The president has tried reasonableness and he has failed. It has been astonishing to watch Obama’s sheer unwillingness to give up on his opponents after their refusal to work with him on the stimulus package, health care reform, or the extension of the Bush tax cuts last fall. A Congress dominated by mindless cannibals is now feasting on a supine president. But surely even he now realizes there’s no middle ground with antagonists whose only interest is in seeing him humiliated.