Under these circumstances, taking enormous risks with the country’s well-being, as House Republicans did in the debt-ceiling rumble, is no longer out of bounds. It’s a form of patriotism. When your adversaries’ ideas are so dastardly, it’s better to court chaos, win the fight and pick up the pieces later.

And to make matters worse — and more confusing — the two sides are not equally distant from the political center. We are in an age of asymmetric polarization.

Precisely because they believe in both government and the marketplace, Democrats are always more ready to compromise. Obama’s economic address last Thursday was seen as tough and firm because he finally called out Republicans in Congress. Progressives liked the new fortitude, and also the relatively large sums Obama would mobilize to jolt the economy back to vibrancy.