While a Washington Post/Pew poll last week found that 8 in 10 Tea Party supporters feel they understand the debt limit issue well, only 19 percent were concerned that not raising the ceiling would force the government into default. Another poll from the same source found that 65 percent of Tea Party supporters don't see any problems with the United States hitting its debt ceiling. This would be funny but for the stakes and but for the fact that these are the people running the GOP. For every McConnell, willing to find a path back from the brink, there are brink-deniers like Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota or Louie Gohmert of Texas, who cribbed from Franklin Roosevelt this month, telling reporters that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And there are brink-embracers like Indiana freshman Rep. Todd Rokita, who blithely said that, "We'll learn to live within our means right now. ... And this might force that issue, even if the economy does ... go down, the economy might get worse." Burn the economy down, then, so we can build it back up. [See photos of Bachmann.]
The fact is that the politics of purity lead to governance of dysfunction. Under most circumstances that means gridlock, which is a problem. But it's one endemic to the system and one where the harm of inaction can be mitigated and contained through things like elections and public pressure. But the debt ceiling crisis is such that Tea Partyers willing to ignore the rhetoric-governance reality gap can do catastrophic harm before the system can correct them.