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Dionne: A different kind of Washington showdown

  • (DAN WASSERMAN / Boston Globe)

Why is this political crisis different from all the others?

It's different because Republicans are badly divided over the government shutdown while Democrats are united. President Barack Obama and his party want to say, firmly and unequivocally, that they will never again give in to the Republicans' abuses of the governing process — or to their willingness to risk catastrophe. In the GOP, by contrast, there was buyer's remorse about the party's current adventure even before it began.

It's different because the Republicans are causing fiscal chaos over an issue quite apart from normal budget wrangling and making a demand — for gutting the Affordable Care Act — that they know Democrats, especially the president, cannot meet.

It's different because the new health care system got up and running on the very day the shutdown began. Conceding to the GOP would take health insurance away from people and ruin a program for which we now know there is a public appetite. It's not going to happen.

It's different because Obama is different. In the past, he was always ready to negotiate and typically went out of his way not to cast showdowns in partisan terms. This time, he's freely calling out “House Republicans” as the culprits. He's confident in asserting that serious talks can take place only if Republicans stop using threats to the country's well-being as bargaining levers.

And it's different because the Republicans have no coherent strategy. Their leaders, as one Republican put it to me, have been laying track just ahead of the train as it roars forward.

They are making insulting offers — for example, proposing to fund a few parts of the government that they cherry-pick while allowing the rest to languish.

House Speaker John Boehner's approach has been driven by fear: fear of the most right-wing House members, fear of rabid talk-show hosts, fear of the Frankenstein monster of fanatical organizations the party has relied upon to gin up the faithful.

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