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As a lifelong liberal, I cannot join those who are celebrating recent polling that shows Republicans’ popularity has tanked to an all-time low.

For me, that kind of gloating after three weeks of our government’s shutdown would feel unpatriotic. It’s my country, too, and I am worried. Not just about the multibillion-dollar hit to the economy but about our collective mood, too.

What a lousy victory if our cheer is, “Ha-ha-ha, your side scared Americans so much that they finally like us better.” No one wins when a small group of extremists in our own government is able to bring us so close to breaching our country’s statutory debt ceiling.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed an American public worried about long-term economic harm here and our damaged image abroad.

America always has paid its bills. That any country anywhere in the world doubted for a moment that we would continue to do so has left us reeling.

The poll also showed that this time, the majority of Americans know where to place the blame for this near catastrophe.

Reporters Dan Balz and Scott Clement, writing for The Washington Post: “There was little in the findings for the GOP to feel good about. The party’s image has sunk to an all-time low in Post-ABC surveys, with 32 percent of the public saying they have a favorable opinion and 63 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. Almost 4 in 10 Americans have a strongly unfavorable view of the GOP.

“The Tea Party fares just as badly. Barely a quarter of the public has a favorable image of the movement, the lowest rating in Post-ABC polling.”

Will this hurt the Tea Party movement? Over the past couple of years, I’ve interviewed and interacted with enough people who identify themselves as members of the Tea Party to know they are not a monolithic group. Two years ago, for example, at a Tea Party rally in a Cleveland suburb, a group of people who swore to me that homosexuality is a violation of the Bible stood just feet away from those who insisted the government should stay out of America’s bedrooms.

“To each his own,” one man said as his wife shook her head in disagreement.

It was that kind of day, all day long.

The one thing elected Tea Partiers seem to have in common is their rage. Earlier this month, they managed to harness it long enough to hold our country hostage and inflict irreparable damage while accomplishing exactly nothing they set out to do.

The only thing they proved is that rage has a way of sharpening edges but dulling the senses. Not the tools we need to dig our way out of this malaise — and “malaise” is the word as one poll after another chronicles the growing sense of futility Americans feel about the future of our country.

Tea Party darling Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is undeterred. He has made clear that he’s unwilling to rule out another government shutdown. To stop the unstoppable Affordable Care Act, you understand.

“I would do anything — and I will continue to do anything I can — to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare,” Cruz said on ABC’s This Week.

Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell swears that won’t happen again. “You can count on that,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation.

What a spectacle. The Republican Party is in shambles, with its members fighting one another like branches of the same troubled family. One of its relatives — a member of the esteemed and storied Taft family of Ohio — took his despair public this week in an op-ed for The New York Times.

John G. Taft likened Cruz’s “virulent strain of empty nihilism” to Joe McCarthy’s dark days of witch hunting:

“Watching the Republican Party use the full faith and credit of the United States to try to roll back Obamacare, watching its members threaten not to raise the debt limit — which Warren Buffett rightly called a ‘political weapon of mass destruction’ — to repeal a tax on medical devices, I so wanted to ask a similar question: ‘Have you no sense of responsibility? At long last, have you left no sense of responsibility?'”

Taft’s questions telegraph just what’s at stake.

Nothing to celebrate here. Not one reason to cheer.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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