In any negotiation, it is inadvisable to make threats that aren't credible. Probably the only thing worse is to threaten actions that will end up helping the other side. Yet the tea party-affiliated House Republicans aren't simply making this very mistake with the government shutdown; they are gearing up to do it again, on a grander and more fatal scale, with the debt ceiling.

Much as Arthur Scargill, leader of the U.K.'s National Union of Mineworkers, did in the 1980s, the tea party today appears to have a political death wish. Scargill ended up giving Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher exactly what she wanted — a protracted confrontation in which he came across as an extremist, eroding any popular support for the miners. Scargill got a great deal of national attention, but the miners ended up with very little, if anything. They had some legitimate grievances, but their attempt to force a democratic government into full capitulation didn't play well. In the end, the miners were a minority of a minority (unionized workers). Their demands were perceived as extreme and extremely unreasonable. Tea party Republicans seem determined to head the same way.

The government shutdown has become a farce. Late last week, House Republicans supported a measure that promises full back pay to all government employees once funding is officially restored. President Barack Obama accepted this deal with alacrity (though it hasn't passed the Senate), so now the government and its services are shut down, without any likely cost savings. This is a strategy of pure pointless irritation and self-inflicted international humiliation. It also worsens the budget deficit.