By the time you read this, the government shutdown might be over and the U.S. may have avoided defaulting on its debt, but the fallout from our October of living dangerously stays with us. A few takeaways:
• It’s not the President’s fault, and it’s not Speaker Boehner’s fault — though I wish both of them were able to provide more leadership to avoid the brinkmanship. It’s the Tea Party’s fault. With their wrongheaded commitment to “principle” instead of process, they have contorted and conflated their agenda, resulting in illogic and contradiction — never mind the undermining of our nation itself. They are convinced they occupy the moral high ground, as in “to be against us means one is for more government spending, higher taxes, and huge deficits.” Well, not many of us are for those per se, but remember what the Tea Party has really been trying to block: Obamacare. Whether or not you are a supporter of health care reform, it has passed into law, been tested before the Supreme Court, and been validated by the reelection of the President. Radical congressional obstructionists would be wise to heed the words attributed to Gen. George S. Patton: “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”
• Business leaders I talk to are fed up with the Tea Party, to a degree that I found surprising. Says one conservative Chicago billionaire: “They are zealots and they are dangerous.” Says a CEO of a Fortune 100 company based in the Deep South: “The debate about the Affordable Care Act is over. That grass has already been cut. You can’t put it back on.” This CEO proceeds to calmly explain to me how his company will adapt to the new law, though he is much more excited to talk about his company’s core business prospects, which are looking up.
• Which brings me to another point: The economic recovery has unfolded exactly as one might expect, coming out of the biggest downturn of our time, which is to say slowly and unevenly. An increasingly healthy economy will go a long way toward addressing our nation’s balance sheet, while of course a crippling government shutdown erodes economic recovery both here and abroad.
• Which brings me to a final point: The world is watching, and they think we are nuts. Here we are, the most blessed nation on earth by virtue of our resources, our political system, and our people, and we are allowing a disruptive minority to squander it all. Folks from other countries — many suffering from deep political and economic problems not of their own making — ask, How could you do this to yourselves? (Believe me, I have heard this personally.) I can just hear the intransigents responding, “We don’t care what foreigners think.” Fair enough. Just understand that if we keep this up, our system won’t be the envy of anyone, and those foreigners won’t care about us either.
Where do we go from here? Well, I’m usually loath to lard on new laws after a crisis, but here’s one I would support hands down. In the event of another government shutdown, the salaries and health care benefits of members of Congress would automatically be frozen. But somehow I don’t see that being passed.
This story is from the October 28, 2013 issue of Fortune.