Early last Wednesday, Republican Sen. Mike Lee rose in the Senate to recite a quotation from George Washington. It was, Lee said, Washington's own account of his last day as president in 1797.

Lee was explaining why Washington, if he were alive today, might agree with Republicans in the fight that led to the federal government shutdown.

"I was plain George Washington now, neither general nor president," Lee said, reading Washington's account of walking down a Philadelphia street. "Suddenly I realized I was not alone. People were following me. At first only a few, then a swelling crowd. For a long moment, I stood face to face with them — the young cobbler, the carpenter, the storekeeper, the laborer."