We can't bring ourselves to praise Republicans for finally capitulating on a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. It's hard to gin up much enthusiasm for their agreement to fix the catastrophe they manufactured. This is not cause for celebration, only relief.
That relief is partly over President Barack Obama's resolve, at long last, to hold firm against intransigent and irrational opponents. If he had done so back in 2011, when the Republicans created the last debt ceiling crisis, it's hard to imagine the nation would have had to endure it yet again this fall.
Some have criticized the president for not negotiating with the tea party Republicans this time around, saying it showed a lack of leadership that lengthened the impasse and increased the damage inflicted on the country. That is nonsense.
What Obama did this time is the very definition of leadership.
He knew the government shutdown would not be good for him personally; while the American people overwhelmingly and accurately blame the crisis on the GOP, the president's poll numbers are declining too. Nonetheless, he stood his ground. He finally has learned that legitimizing the extortionary tactics of political extremists only encourages them — and risks legitimizing a strategy now broadly considered unpatriotic and unethical.
Imagine, for example, if a Democratic House told a President Mitt Romney it would not raise the debt ceiling unless he approved a Medicare-for-all insurance system. Whether you like or abhor that idea, it would be unconscionable to achieve it by threatening the very solvency of the nation.
The way to make major changes in policy is to win elections and pass laws. The Democrats did this with health care reform. It was a campaign promise by Obama in his first election, and after it passed, voters re-elected him. The Democrats did it without once threatening to blow up the world economy.
Obama's refusal to negotiate this bedrock principle of American democracy, and the subsequent drubbing the GOP took in public opinion, should return us to that historical norm.
This is not a hypothetical argument. The deal reached Wednesday only raises the debt ceiling through February. We'll find out then whether the GOP has learned the right lessons from its failure to win any concessions in its doomed-from-the-start battle to kill health care reforms already being implemented — or whether Obama again will need to show the kind of strength he has exhibited in the past 16 days.