CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- America became "the laughing-stock of the world," Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont says, because tea party Republicans shut down the U.S. government in a senseless attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act and revoke health insurance for 30 million less-privileged Americans.
Depressingly, West Virginia's two Republicans in Congress -- Rep. Shelley Capito and Rep. David McKinley -- voted for this GOP fiasco. But in the final showdown Wednesday night, they switched sides and joined Democrats to end the crisis. Thank heaven.
The 16-day shutdown cost America's economy $24 billion, Standard & Poor analysts calculate. They predict it will slow economic growth and reduce the number of jobs that might have been gained in the ongoing recovery after the Great Recession.
Yet the federal closure accomplished nothing except harm. The ACA remains unscathed. What a stupid farce. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said:
"The government shutdown was a self-imposed crisis manufactured by a small group of hard-line conservatives in the House of Representatives because of their opposition to the Affordable Care Act."
Rockefeller said fallout from the futile action will cause "damage and disruption... to our families, our businesses, our government and our standing in the world... far longer than the number of days the crisis lasted."
President Obama declared Thursday that "the American people are completely fed up with Washington" for "yet another self-inflicted crisis" perpetrated by "pressure from extremes."
After the GOP capitulation, The New York Times observed: "The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc.... The only things Republicans achieved were billions of dollars in damage to the economy, harm to the nation and a rock-bottom public approval rating."
The biggest loser in the Washington pratfall is the know-nothing wing of the GOP generally called the tea party. Composed mostly of gun zealots, rural fundamentalists, covert racists and others of the far-right fringe, the movement rose rapidly in the past few years and helped elect extremist Republicans, resulting in the House takeover after the 2010 election. Sometimes the tea party defeated GOP moderates in primaries, replacing them with hard-liners who couldn't win mainline votes in general elections.
Superb writer Frank Rich says the tea party phenomenon represents "the southernization of the Republican Party" -- a shift of Dixie whites, formerly "Solid South" Democrats, into domination of the GOP. He wrote that the transformation began when Democrats passed integration laws in the 1960s and "accelerated with the advent of Richard Nixon's 'southern strategy' of pandering to racists."
Now that the 2013 shutdown and federal debt default have been delayed for three months, some observers fear that Washington will replay this tragedy in January and February when the reprieve expires. But others think the tea party was hurt so badly in the doomed October mess that it won't make another attempt to hold America hostage in trying to repeal the ACA.
We sure hope the later prediction turns out to be correct.