So far, the Republican response to President Barack Obama's historic address on economic inequality has not veered from the predictable cliches of tea party rhetoric. It was appropriately summarized in a tweet from House Speaker John Boehner, complaining that the Democrat in the White House wants "more government rather than more freedom," ignoring his challenge to Republicans to present solutions of their own.
Nobody in Washington talks much about the poor in America these days, even though they are more and more with us in the economic aftermath of the Great Recession. Perhaps that is why the Washington Post welcomed Paul Ryan's recent declaration that he wants to fight poverty "with kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility."
Amid the current national uproar over the troubles of the Affordable Care Act, it is almost uplifting to hear the deep concern expressed by politicians, pundits, lobbyists and corporate leaders over cancellation of existing health insurance policies. They empathize loudly with the millions of potential victims, whose plight infuriates these worthy observers with fury. They fill hours of television and pages of print with expressions of outrage. Suddenly, everyone in Washington is intensely concerned about Americans losing their health coverage.
When Wendy Davis proclaimed that she is "pro-life" -- a description long since appropriated by conservatives opposed to abortion rights -- the right-wing media practically exploded with indignation. How could she dare to say that? But having won national fame when she filibustered nearly 12 hours against a law designed to shutter Lone Star State abortion clinics, the Texas state senator with the pink shoes doesn't hesitate to provoke outrage among the righteous.
With his impending re-election in "Blue Jersey" evidently assured and his national profile rising, Chris Christie is a formidable presidential hopeful. If not always a voice of reason, the blustering governor usually sounds sane in a Republican Party where conspiracy, paranoia and extremism reign. His decision to abandon the state's legal appeal against gay marriage exemplified the canny pragmatism that worries Democratic strategists looking forward to 2016.
If Americans learn anything from this month's shutdown-and-debt-ceiling debacle, they ought to realize that political extremism brings real costs -- denominated in dollars and jobs, as well as national cohesion and prestige -- and that those costs are not small. As long as the tea party faction continues to wield its malign influence over the Republican leadership in Congress, the threat of further and even worse damage will not subside.
America's great minds of business and finance have reached a consensus on the government shutdown and worse, the prospect of a debt default: While the latter is worse, both are bad. Those same great minds are well aware how the shutdown came to pass and why default still looms on the horizon, whether next week, next month, or next year.
By Washington standards, the current government shutdown is an everyday disaster -- of a kind we are gradually learning to expect whenever the Republican Party controls Congress. The impending breach of the nation's credit, however, when those same Republicans refuse to raise the debt limit to cover the funds they have spent, threatens a singular catastrophe: unpredictable, global, yet entirely avoidable.
For the American media -- and especially for "the liberal media" -- even the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidential nomination, however distant, seems to invite a reversion to bad old habits. During the presidency of Hillary's husband, all too many Washington journalists lived by "the Clinton rules," which meant applying the most cynical interpretation to everything Bill and Hillary Clinton (and anybody associated with them) did or had ever done.
For a president who distinguished himself from his predecessor by promising to extricate the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack Obama suddenly appears determined to maroon his own presidency in Syria. But critics who worry that Obama is imitating George W. Bush are missing the central irony in his predicament -- which stems from his failure to mimic Bush closely enough.