Extremely Conservative and Incredibly Out of Touch

Has the shutdown made the Tea Party go bipolar? Some of them want our pity; others are too busy celebrating to care about real people. Kirsten Powers calls for an end to the madness.

10.08.13 5:40 PM ET

As the U.S. government enters week two of Shutdown 2013, the Tea Party members who created this mess have gone bipolar. In the Senate, it’s a pity party. Over in the House, manic glee.

Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor on Friday to whine that Democrats were invoking his name as the “root of all evil in the world.” This grandiose self-pity exaggerates the plaint. He is the root of only one evil, at least so far: the government shutdown. His Tea Party sidekick, Sen. Mike Lee, cried to radio host Hugh Hewitt after a meeting with displeased GOP colleagues, “It was an all-out attack against Ted Cruz and me. It was unflattering. It was unfair. It was demeaning.”

Two grown men were giving us this crybaby routine as it was reported that actual babies were to go without formula, thanks to them. Almost nine million mothers and their children are at risk of having their benefits under the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program slashed or frozen.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found stopgap funding, but warns that if the shutdown goes beyond October they will run out of money.

Republicans have a little history of magnifying their minor personal slights in an unseemly contrast to the real effects on regular people from government shutdowns. In 1995, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich earned himself an infamous Daily News cover as an oversized bottle-wielding infant after he told a reporter he’d shut down the government because President Bill Clinton made him sit at the back of Air Force One.

When you contrast these temper tantrums with the real problems of the world, it makes these erstwhile leaders seem petty and out of touch with reality. The Centers for Disease Control, where two thirds of the staff have been furloughed, announced yesterday they have “ceased monitoring flu outbreaks and unfamiliar strains of it since the government shutdown.” Last week, the CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden told CBS News, “I usually don’t lose sleep despite the threats that we face, but I am losing sleep [over the shutdown] because we don’t know if we’ll be able to find and stop things that might kill people.” ] Over at the NIH Clinical Center, an estimated 200 patients will be turned away by the each week of the shutdown, including about 30 children, many of them with cancer. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told the Associated Press, “This is the place where people have wanted to come when all else has failed. It’s heartbreaking.”

Striking a different, but equally discordant note, House Tea Party members are all but breaking out the champagne to celebrate the pain they are inflicting on America. On the eve of the shutdown Rep. Michelle Bachmann told the Washington Post, “We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.” The Post reported that, “Rep. John Abney Culberson (R-Tex.) exclaimed, ‘It’s wonderful,’ clapping his hands to emphasize the point. ‘We’re 100 percent united!’”  A few days later, Bachmann told Sean Hannity, “We are really energized.  We are really strong.  This is about the happiest I’ve seen Members in a long time….”

What are they so excited about? More than 800,000 federal employees have been sent home. Meals on Wheels programs to feed the elderly and veterans will have to be halted if the shutdown continues much longer. The effects of the shutdown are rippling through the government, even to the point of threatening our basic safety.  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee of the shutdown, “As each day goes by, the impact and the jeopardy to the safety and security of this country will increase.” A whopping 72 percent of the intelligence community’s civilian workforce has been furloughed, putting the country at a higher risk of a terrorist attack.

In between their celebrations, House Tea Partiers are still finding time to complain. Bachmann trashed the Obama Administration for closing the World War II Memorial, which would not be closed if it weren’t for the government shutdown she championed.  Perhaps the biggest pity party on the right has focused on the complaint that, “[President Obama will] negotiate with terrorists overseas, but he won’t negotiate with Speaker Boehner.”

Yes, Republicans, the president believes that Iran is more likely to negotiate in good faith than the Republican Party in Congress. Stop proving him right.