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Woe is us

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The Wall Street Journal and NBC have done a poll that has some truly discouraging results for tea party Republicans. The American public is roundly rejecting the government shutdown, and the tea party movement and conservative Republicans aligned with it have taken the brunt of the beating.

The poll says only 24 percent of the public has a positive view of Republicans. This is the lowest number since this poll began in 1989. From September to October, that rating dropped by 5 percentage points. In that same period, feeling about the Democratic Party has remained about the same, and the number of people with a positive view of President Obama has risen by 3 percentage points.

When asked about the budget impasse, the numbers are even more stark for Republicans. Seventy percent of the poll respondents view Republicans in Congress as putting their political agenda ahead of what’s good for the country. Only 51 percent said that of the president.

Of course, all of Congress is viewed negatively by the public judging from the poll. “Six in 10 Americans said, if they could, they would defeat and replace every member of Congress,” the Journal wrote on it’s report on the poll results.

The poll is bad news for Congress, but it’s particularly bad news for Republicans in the House. The zeal of the ultraconservatives appears unflagging, even as their more moderate party mates cringe at the toll their action may take on the GOP.

Just as Karl Rove’s vision of a permanent Republican majority in Congress was rejected by the public, the suicide of the party at the hands of tea party loonies is equally unappealing. The country has best been governed under a strong but flexible two-party system. When moderates like Sherwood Boehlert of Utica had some voice in the Republican Party, even Democrats could believe that the country could be governed. Now, however, the shrill and unyielding voices of Ted Cruz in the Senate and Justin Amas in the House have become emblematic of a Congress that seems unable to do its job.

The iconic conservative President Ronald Reagan and the ultimate liberal House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. were at opposite ends of the political spectrum and battled every day they were in office. But off the political battlefield they were friends who respected each other. That collegiality seems to have disappeared, and with it any hope of forging a national agenda. Woe is us.

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