Showdown at the ol' Capitol Hill

US President Barack Obama leaves after speaking about the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on 16 October 2013 When asked if this would all happen again, Mr Obama said, "no"

It was a classic showdown worthy of any Western.

An unruly bunch rode into town, terrorising the inhabitants, closing down the saloon and the general store, threatening to burn the whole place down until the unsmiling sheriff stands tough, refuses their outrageous demands and faces them down, forcing them into humiliating surrender.

Or a brave bunch of rebels make a stand against the imposition of dangerous tyranny, until for the sake of the land as a whole they give way, bloody, bowed but the light of revolt undimmed in their eyes.

It all depends on the narrative. But whichever way you tell it, Barack Obama won and the Republicans lost.

But what follows after one of the most acrimonious and tense confrontations in American politics in recent years is a little more complicated.

For the president it is pretty straightforward. Mr Obama stood his ground, and refused to give an inch.

He's given notice to Republicans that there's no point in picking a fight like that again.

That is a victory worth having. Conservatives will dislike him even more, arguing he is ignoring the legitimate role of the House and refusing to negotiate.

While bipartisanship may briefly become fashionable it may make it even harder for Mr Obama to win battles on immigration, gun control or the environment.

Not that victory was on the cards anyway.

But it does cheer his own supporters, and with elections next year, that's important.

Boehner's 'pretty pathetic'

It is very bad for Republicans. But this is the really hard one: it depends what you mean by bad and who you mean by Republicans.

Start Quote

The idea that this marks a fight back by moderates against the radical right is, I think, wishful thinking by liberals and independents”

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Let's break it down a little more.

Certainly the party's poll ratings as a whole went through the floor.

That clearly is not good for them, but unless it actually makes people less likely to vote Republican in real elections it isn't of much consequence.

The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, may punch his fist, and get a standing ovation by his caucus, but he will be judged very harshly in the media.

He was pushed into adopting a tactic that he must have known never stood any chance of succeeding.

That makes him look pretty pathetic, an impotent leader who can't control his hot heads.

But it depends what he wants. Certainly he hasn't won any policy objectives.

But he has kept his party united, just about, and that wasn't easy. And it makes it fairly certain he can keep his job. It's not Gandhi, but a job is a job.

Soul-searching - or not?

It's bad for the Tea Party. Or maybe not.

They won't admit they have run up the white flag, but instead will portray themselves as defeated but unbroken.

That is pretty much a core part of a certain brand of political romanticism.

Most come from districts where this won't hurt them at all. The lesson activists will learn is that you need more hardliners in the House.

The idea that this marks a fight back by moderates against the radical right is, I think, wishful thinking by liberals and independents.

LA views on the US crisis - "I thought it was ridiculous"

It's a fascinating idea, and I will be watching for any signs that it is true.

But I think it is founded on a basic mistake, a misunderstanding of what the argument inside the party was about during the crisis - not ideology, but tactics.

There are few centrists left in the House and the conservatives are only arguing about how far they take the fight.

One of the leaders of the Tea Party tactic, Senator Ted Cruz, may have made himself heartily loathed by other senators, but donations have flooded into his campaign organisation.

If his colleagues think he's a self-serving egotist, the people he wants to vote for him in presidential primaries love him a little bit more.

I doubt this is the point the Republican party will really look to widen its base.

That may only happen if Chris Christie wins the presidential nomination or after a second Hillary Clinton term. But there will certainly be some soul searching and those Republicans who dislike the Tea Party may be bolder in their opposition.

It is much harder to say if this spells an end to government by crisis. For a few months, it will, of course.

But the causes are too deep rooted for it to disappear. It is not impossible we simply will be back here again in the first months of the new year.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor


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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Given the apparent degree of widespread American public disgruntlement in regard to the politics in Congress, if moderate Republicans do not now rally to denounce the perpetrators of such political disruption then perhaps the voters will then next year replace them with Democrats who will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The can was kicked down the road. In Britain the government would have fallen. Not so here. Real democracy is a messy business and sometimes gets very nasty. But it's still better than one party rule even if there are two parties that take turns at which one will be the dictator.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I want to thank Mr. Mardell for helping us understand what the heck has been going on with our "democratic" government. I depend on the BBC for honest and thoughtful news. Fortunately, in this case the terrorists did not win. Intelligence and decency have carried the day thanks to the extreme courage of Mr. Obama and congress members on both sides of the aisle. Voters will be speaking in 2014.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    #11 the fundamental flaw with your thought process is that Obama is NOT a decent man. He is nasty, hate-filled man. Likewise not to claim Onama is stupid but he is by no measure overly intelligent .

    And #13, do you remember GW Bush? His mere existence seems to blow your opinion out of the water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The problem for Republicans is that Independents decry their position. It will be hard for them to get elected on mass. Instead, the GOTP will present far right candidates in the Senate and we will see a Dem president until they widen their base.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "But the causes are too deep rooted for it to disappear."

    Or maybe the trenches have been dug a little deeper. The only good thing is that Obama, a decent intelligent man was not cowed by the strange forces massed against him. Had he weakened the prospects for world peace would be much darker now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Very frustrating. Americans are angry with what has happened. But as Mark points out, it's a complex situation. If voters become apathetic this isn't good for our democracy and if people vote to remove incumbent Republicans it's likely the moderates in contested districts will get ejected while the extreme conservatives will survive. Defaulting is crazy but we still need to address our debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I fail to see how this deal is victory for anything but procrastination, it doesn't seem to solve anything - it just puts off having to find a way to solve the real problem for a few months

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The most telling line: "(Tea party) Most come from districts where this won't hurt them at all. The lesson activists will learn is that you need more hardliners in the House." Gerrymandered districts are a nightmare for the electorate, tea party morons are de facto 'tenured' and will attempt to blow up the nation's finances on a whim - just as they did here. Democrats need to curb gerrymandering?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This entire situation is an act of political terrorism: when one radical group holds an entire nation economically hostage. The Tea Party, by their actions, are political terrorists. In any other country, or with any other means, they would be proclaimed as such. It is time to call them what they are - terrorists. I thought our nation was waging war on this...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    This is a shameful experience for America and a dent on their leadership in the world. Sincerely hope it will not be repeated. The world will be better off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    So the real decision on US overspending has been delayed for three more months? ......... i.e., no decision yet. A drawn round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The money will stop coming into the Tea Party now from businesses and people affected by the shutdown who want the Republican party to be electable. The moderate GOPs will benefit against the TP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    144 elected American representatives of the people were willing to default on US debt and plunge the entire world into all-out global economic catastrophe. That is a terrifying reality we all need to worry about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I hate to admit that I used to be a Republican. That was back in the days when you could be a reasonable & rational person and still run for office in that party. Now so many moderates have the Republican party that all that is left are bigots, right-wing ideologues, and religious fundamentalists. I hope this changes because we need a two party system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Ted Cruz's potential presidential run in 2016 is shot. Only those who support politicians that put their personal interest before country's interest and will shutdown the government to prove how much they hate the president who is from the other party, would vote for Cruz. Thank God most Americans are moderates/centrists not extreme like Ted Cruz, the Tea Party and their supporters.


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