My late old friend, Professor Howard Reiter, felt about the Republican party the way the great sports columnist Jimmy Cannon did about boxing: he knew it was bad for everyone concerned but couldn't help enjoying an institution he had spent his lifetime analyzing and--much earlier--supporting. Howard, to be sure, who started out--when we met in college--even farther to the right than Long Island's Nassau County machine, eventually passed me as he moved left on the political spectrum.
It's trite to suggest that moderate Republicans, were any still extant, would have behaved better than the GOP's current office-holders. Compared to these folks, of course, even Nixon looks like a moderate. (We'll not employ the label Ike tried to put on his part of the party--"modern Republicans"--a term originated by the "Boy Wonder," Harold Stassen, the Governor of Minnesota --later president of the University of Pennsylvania, who had been too young to run for President in 1940 but who became a joke by the time he passed away many, many years later.)
But people in Washington are prone to remember the Nixon administration for more than Watergate. It was the last time that there were Republicans in government who knew how to manage. And many good innovations emerged from those years, including the EPA and Amtrak, although many have suspected that if Nixon had been fully aware of any of them, he probably would have been against them.
Even Mr.Republican, Robert Alphonso Taft, couldn't accomplish, however, what Reagan did: turn the party seemingly irrevocably to the far right. It's silly to hold Reagan out as an example of a president who got along with his Democratic opponents in Congress, such as Tip O'Neill, because Democrats like to collaborate to produce a stronger government. Republicans now are totally against government in their opposition.
Reagan is the one who brought us to the current impasse because he emboldened the conspiracy theorists and, in John McCain's words, the wacko birds who shape the party's behavior now. He also preached the anti-government rhetoric he picked up from his corporate pals, who, of course, never objected to getting some plush corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks and other handouts. That's one main reason why Wall St. is on Elizabeth Warren's side on this one--not all government is seen as bad by the deal guys.
We will suffer mightily for these yo-yos, who really are upset by the closing of National Parks or the World War II Memorial, but not the dangers we face to our nation's credit, the added costs we already have incurred in the rising rate on T-bills, the potential for dangerous food to be sold in the absence of even the limited meat and poultry inspection not being conducted, and normal business that will be stifled because there is no one to see at government offices although law requires that they be visited.
One can only hope that the current President's backbone remains strong in the face of those too obdurate or foolish or perverse to understand when they urge him to compromise that there is no compromise with these people.