It helps to look at the tea party congressional freshmen, who form the core of the opposition to a sane, reasonable resolution to the debt ceiling problem, the way one looks at terrorists: individuals who are so committed to their cause that their own martyrdom in its service is considered an acceptable sacrifice.
These are especially dangerous groups, because in the past both the political process and the nation’s security have been predicated on the idea that the actors wish to live to see another day. When some guy lights his shoe on an airplane, or pursues a catastrophic political course in the name of his dogma without caring if he’s reelected, it becomes much more difficult to defend the established order.
The problem is that both terrorist and tea party freshman believe the world will be a better place if they get their way, whether others agree with them or not. In the political case, the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans favors compromise over default means nothing if a sacred balanced budget can be attained through deep cuts and no increase in revenue.
Some of these freshmen have said, “I didn’t come to Washington to get reelected. I came here to fix the problem,” which sounds noble, except that reelected they surely will not be once their constituents start having to do without the programs they’ve come to take for granted.
Yes, it was an angry electorate that vaulted these people into Congress. But you ain’t seen angry until those checks stop arriving.
Meanwhile, the damage the zealots could wreak would be lasting.