This is also a valuable reminder that the Beltway elite still do not understand what is happening to the country. Consider, for instance, the following thought experiment: You jump off a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Is this an “extreme” act? Well, it depends. Is the boat sailing along just fine with no problems? Then what you did was extreme and insane. But what if the boat is sinking, and you’re bailing? In that case, you probably made the correct decision, or at least a defensible one. In other words, context matters. And it is that greater political-economic context that is missing from It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

Mann/Ornstein are, at their core, most offended by the GOP’s violation of protocol in the debt ceiling battle, but the problem they fail to note is that this protocol has contributed to the mess that is the nation’s public finances. To wit: The country’s vast obligations on entitlement programs are now substantially greater than its ability to pay, and reforms must be made before the bondholders catch wind of the structural problems. This was what animated the GOP’s efforts on the debt ceiling—their rejection of the one-for-one ratio on tax hikes to spending reforms—and why they were prepared to use a previously perfunctory act like the debt ceiling increase to raise awareness.

The media analysis of the debt ceiling battle overlooked this context, as do Mann/Ornstein. Perhaps this is simply standard media bias at work, but it is just as likely the efforts of the Beltway Establishment to defend a political order that is crumbling around them. No longer do the old ways of Washington work; the math simply does not add up. Mann/Ornstein and the rest can blame the Tea Party all they want, but it does not change the reality that the Establishment’s outmoded methods of doing business have created the current crisis that the Tea Party is trying to fix.