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D.C. debacle — Requiem for the yahoos

Sen. Ted Cruz R-Texas speaks reporters waiting outside closed-door meeting Senate Republicans as news emerged thleaders reached last-minute agreement avert

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters waiting outside a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans as news emerged that leaders reached a last-minute agreement to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after a partial, 16-day shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Cruz said he would not try to block the agreement. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Updated: November 18, 2013 8:01AM

The world has a question: Are Americans really so crazy and reckless?

Answer: No, only the yahoos.

And it’s way past time we showed them the door.

The entire circus of the last three weeks, in which the federal government was partially shut down and the nation staggered toward default, causing pain around the world, was the work of a small band of ultraconservative House Republicans, yahoos all.

They did not speak for America. We all knew that. But they did not speak for a great many Republicans, either, although they insist otherwise.

“The American people rose up and spoke with an overwhelming voice,” Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican yahoo from Texas, said Wednesday when it became clear his scheme to defund Obamacare had failed. “At this stage, Washington isn’t listening to them.”

Cruz went to Harvard, so let’s hope he’s kidding.

The American people did rise up and speak in an overwhelming voice, but not against Obamacare — for all their legitimate doubts — or in support of holding a gun to the economy’s head.

The American people rose up and spoke in an overwhelming voice against Cruz and his ilk. Every day the shutdown and debt-ceiling fight continued, the Republican Party’s poll numbers tumbled deeper into the basement.

The biggest takeaway from this manufactured crisis is that the Republican Party, if it has any hope of remaining a viable national party, finally must stand up to the yahoos in its ranks. No more tolerance for crazy ultimatums. No more feeding on the saddest populist anger, fear and ignorance. No more rigid extremism that calls compromise a sin. No more living in a cartoon alternate reality in which defaults don’t matter, global warming is a liberal plot and the theory of evolution is doubtful.

And all that hateful talk about a commie pinko Kenyan usurper living in the White House? When Donald Trump is your point man on that, you really ought to reconsider.

Some people will always wallow in ignorance, but the GOP — at its best a healthy conservative check on liberal excess — should be better than that.

Rather than double down on right-wing extremism for fear of Tea Party challengers in primary elections, the Republican Party would be smart to field more moderate — dare we say “mainstream” — candidates against incumbent extremists. After this latest debacle in Washington, voices of reason might stand a fighting chance.

Republican business people on Main Street and Wall Street, who were as alarmed as anybody by the prospect of default, would be smart to counter the money influence of archconservatives such as the Koch brothers by aggressively backing those more moderate candidates.

Republicans and Democrats alike would be smart to get behind state reforms in the drawing of congressional districts so that fewer districts lopsidedly favor one party over the other. Members of Congress from “safe” districts are rewarded in party primaries for taking the most extreme stands.

Above all, the Hastert Rule, which says the House speaker should not call a bill for a vote that does not have the support of the “majority of the majority,” should be invoked much less often. Were it not for the Hastert Rule, Tea Party extremists in the House would have been left howling in the night three weeks ago while more responsible legislators — Republicans and Democrats alike, reflecting the wider will of the people — passed sensible bills to fund government and raise the debt ceiling.

Had House Speaker John Boehner not insisted on abiding by the Hastert Rule, the circus never would have come to town. But Boehner cared more about keeping his job than doing right by his country.

Boehner will have another chance almost immediately to demonstrate he is no longer a Tea Party puppet. On Tuesday, Obama said immigration reform would become his top priority once the fiscal crisis was resolved, and he’s ready to sign a balanced and bipartisan bill approved by the Senate back in June. But the bill has been held up in the House, where Boehner — again abiding by the Hastert Rule — has refused to call it for a vote.

The bill likely would pass in the House, despite some thoughtful opposition and plenty of yahoo zenophobia, but would require support from Democrats.

Boehner again will have a clear choice: Do what’s right or throw in with the yahoos.

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