Obama, Cruz and Christie Walk Into a Bar

The shutdown was no joke, but what these three have in common is a real punchline.

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Wall Street. Wall Street was losing its damn mind during the shutdown, and it went absolutely berserk as we got closer to an unprecedented national default. Suddenly it had no control over the faux populist Frankenstein it created. Business hacks and corporate political action committees went into action, appearing to become close friends with an Obama White House they once put everything into destroying. Stock indices plummeted, then soared at every rollercoaster rise and fall of the crisis.   

China, Russia and anyone else who has a beef with us or wants to be No. 1. The irony: Normally, Republicans are chest-thumping, pro-defense hawks who'll jump at any chance to force American world supremacy -- yet, they allow a small band of party hard-heads to turn us into weakened geopolitical punks. Why blast the Obama administration for being soft on Syria or incompetent on Benghazi when you're undermining national security by shutting down the government that maintains it? With antics in Congress threatening an Armageddon-like global financial meltdown, international rivals were more than happy to gloat and point out our corroded political system. But, more urgently, gamesmanship in Congress was an opportunity for unfriendly creditors like China to raise interest rates and rattle our financial cage, thereby giving the upper hand to Beijing at a time when the U.S. can't afford that. Thanks, fam.

Losers

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). In some ways it would be easy to buck conventional wisdom here and claim Boehner ultimately won -- well, for Boehner. He's still speaker of the House, a gig he probably dreamed of since kindergarten. Not like anyone is going to put up a serious challenge to his Ohio district seat. And he planned all along to play this to its very dramatic end, giving red-meat conservatives the impression that he would fight this to the death. But ultimately, Boehner is the speaker of a shaky house of cards, a lonely and hated man who gains little respect and has little control beyond his Capitol Hill Rotunda office. This episode left him broken and beat down till the next round. 

The Republican Party. There is no way around this: The Republican Party lost so badly you can hear the collective rips as thousands of party faithful shred their membership cards. The GOP will, of course, attempt a Braveheart-like comeback Feb. 7, mooning the president and congressional Democrats like blue-faced Scots on an open hill. But it won't come without an epic implosion and split within the party that could very well end up right where the GOP was before its founding on the eve of the Civil War. The big question, though: How long is the public memory when the congressional midterms are more than a year away?

The Tea Party (aka the New Confederacy; the New Nullification Movement). You could argue this fresh, new, decentralized grassroots movement with no coherent or tightly massaged platform to speak of actually won this round. We still have to relitigate this in the next few months, so the uncertainty is there. After all, there is mounting doubt that they really want to participate in any real governance since, for them, it's all about making noise. But at some point you have to ask yourself how productive is it when nearly three-quarters of the country hates your brand and loses patience with everything you stand for? How much fun is it constantly being sent to the corner?    

Time. Because, yes, this entire episode was one of the more memorable wastes of policymaking time and political energy in recent history. Time lost big, because it's bad enough we never have enough of it. And this fracas only forced us all to spend precious moments of time biting our nails in front of TV screens, smartphones and tablets every hour nervously waiting for closure. We could have spent our time more wisely, but thanks to Congress, we lost more.

Government. Nothing like one more episode of Washington dysfunction and schizophrenia to do a hit job on an already frayed relationship between our government and the people. Government has been taking massive blows to the head lately: from sequestration to disclosures about the spy program snooping in our phone records and inboxes. It takes another blow as it reimburses furloughed federal workers for nearly three weeks of time off. This latest bit is bound to leave a taste as sour as molded Lemonheads.

The federal worker. Federal workers took a massive beating in the form of repeated punches to the stomach. Bad enough that sequestration and other budget cuts have completely stripped federal workers of the almost guaranteed financial stability they always had with a government job -- now this. And in terms of African Americans, the black middle class can no longer rely on federal work as its key source of growth and upward mobility as public-sector jobs are being put on a perpetual chopping block. That includes contractors, too.

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist, Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. When he's not mad, he can be reached via Twitter.