For a generation, at the expense of billions of dollars and armies of brilliant minds, America's political parties have cunningly divided most of the country into ideological preserves. It serves their purposes: after multiple rounds of ornate gerrymandering, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, fewer than 1 in 5 is truly competitive on election Day. Republicans speak to Republicans, Democrats to Democrats, the hard right and hard left comfortably cushioned from any obligation to reach out to anyone leaving the rest of the country with no one to speak to them, or for them.
So when the embattled Speaker of the House John Boehner took to the floor with the clock ticking toward zero and pitched a doomed offer to delay the government shutdown by a few more weeks, his simple mantra drilled to the heart of the problem. "Let's listen to our constituents," Boehner thundered, as though a great chorus of voters had demanded that Obamacare be blocked, no matter the cost to the country.
Let's listen to our constituents. Those words could be etched in the Capitol marble, but perhaps never before in the nation's history have they contained so much complexity. Polls have been clear for weeks that the majority of Americans have no interest in flirting with financial disaster. Depending on how the question was asked, 60% to 70% have opposed shutting down government operations in a vague attempt to dismantle the machinery of Obamacare. Even among Republicans, support for the tactic has hovered around 50%.