For the first time in 17 years, the US has been forced to shut down because of a congressional budget row. The crisis shows how a radical group is trying to steer the country's fate, says DW's Michael Knigge.
The old Republican warhorse John McCain is right: the blockade of the US budget with the aim of cancelling Obama's health reform at the last minute goes against the wishes of the people. After all, McCain said, his party made eliminating the health reform its most important issue during the presidential campaign last year - only to be rebuffed in a big way by the voters.
However, McCain's precise analysis - as well as those of numerous other moderate Republicans - doesn't touch the party's hard-line conservatives. They have taken up the cause of doing away with the odious health reform ridiculed as "Obamacare" - no matter the cost. Driven by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a favorite of the radical Tea Party movement who is already touted as a presidential candidate for 2016, the hardliners have put all their eggs in one basket. Their agenda: in a pinch, the entire country must be shut down in order to overthrow Obama's socialist health reform.
It's not Obama who's the victim of this political blackmail; it's ordinary citizens who suffer: those who urgently depend on state benefits which have in any case been shrinking for years, the citizens whom the Tea Party activists ostensibly represent - but the Republican dogmatists don't care. Fuelled by ideological rage, they believe they alone have a claim to the political truth - while taking the US hostage.
As far as the conservative zealots among the Republicans are concerned, this step was long overdue. Over the past years, the party has repeatedly resisted raising the debt ceiling, but now, it was time at last to take the final step over the cliff - and they did.
Anyone who believes the hardliners surrounding Cruz and Co will automatically and rapidly come around in view of the disaster they've unleashed misjudges the radical seriousness of the Tea Party's zealots. Under the motto "starve the beast," they have for years been trying to drastically shrink the federal government, with the exception of the military. It is absolutely conceivable that they will leave the budget crisis unsolved until October 17, only to then link it to the necessary raising of the US debt ceiling. Compared to this dual blackmail and the resulting insolvency of the world's largest national economy, the present budget crisis will look like a mere storm in a teacup.