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posted: 10/20/2013 5:00 AM

Ever so small signs this insanity won't happen again

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In the last hours of the government shutdown, the bizarre got even more bizarre. Progressive clergy and low-wage workers affected by the shutdown visited more than a dozen House offices and left a "consensus" letter from religious groups: "As people of faith and conscience, we urge you to place shared democratic values above short-term political expediency, exercise the courage to fund our nation's government, raise the debt limit without preconditions and get back to work on a faithful budget that serves the common good."

As they walked the halls of Congress, they sang the traditional hymn of faith, kindness, charity and redemption, "Amazing Grace."

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About the same time, House Republicans, to bolster their resolve to crash the economy, were also singing "Amazing Grace."

But there was nothing gracious or graceful about Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare, which, whatever its flaws, helps the ill, the indigent and the economy.

But the Tea Party/Republican shutdown hurt the economy. Standard & Poor's, one of the world's top financial research and ratings agencies, said the constitutional brinkmanship took $24 billion out of the economy and shaved our annual growth by nearly a full percentage point. "If people are afraid that the government policy brinkmanship will resurface again, and with it the risk of another shutdown or worse," S&P said, "they'll remain afraid to open up their checkbooks. That points to another humbug holiday season. ... The bottom line is the government shutdown has hurt the U.S. economy."

And it cost us jobs. One study by Think Progress estimates 900,000 jobs have been lost from austerity cuts. Polls show Americans' confidence in their government has plummeted -- though not as far as their trust in elected officials.

We could use some more graciousness, civility and kindness. The acrimony and avarice corrupting Washington have infected the hearths of America.

There's been a start.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: "Leader McConnell stood up for the good of the nation." Over in the House, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky said of Republican House Speaker John Boehner: "Today he is my hero."

We could use some honesty. There's been a start on that, too. Sen. John McCain did some plain speaking about the effort to defund Obamacare that led to this nerve-wracking standoff. "It was a fool's errand; we were not going to defund Obamacare ... so it was a terrific mistake," he told NBC News. "We inflicted pain on the American people that was totally unnecessary, and we cannot do this again."

We could use some more leadership and collaboration in Congress. Thanks to the women, we've gotten a little more of that, too. "Leadership, I must fully admit," McCain said earlier, "was provided primarily by women in the Senate." That would be Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who led the compromise effort of 14 senators, six of them women.

President Obama held a news conference and expressed the hope of ending eleventh-hour agreements: "We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis. And my hope and expectation is ... there is no reason why we can't work on the issues ... while still being agreeable." As Obama left the podium, a reporter asked, "Mr. President, isn't this going to happen all over again in a few months?"

The president replied, "No." Laughter was heard in the room and appeared on the official transcript.

The underlying cause of these standoffs cannot be laughed away.

Too many Tea Party Republicans and hard-right conservatives believe the vampire-zombie apocalypse gibberish about Obamacare that some of its opponents spew into the airwaves day after day. Against such insanity (and grandstanding), decent public servants like McCain and Collins must struggle to be heard. We need rational voices in debate.

Because it's getting insane out there: Tension in the House of Representatives reached a breaking point for one of the staff stenographers, who grabbed the speaker's microphone and began a disjointed lecture about God, Freemasons and the shutdown. She was, unnervingly, sadly, unhinged by it all.

Let's hope the insanity -- hers and the nation's -- was temporary. After all, when elected officials -- in this case, a handful of House Republicans and a few members of the U.S. Senate -- have a political breakdown, it drives the people nuts.

We deserve better.

2013, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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