If Americans care about who is being reasonable and flexible in the debt-ceiling standoff, Monday night’s dueling speeches were a study in stark contrast. Obama was professorial as he explained what is at stake, then passionate as he argued for a “balanced” approach to debt reduction that includes new revenue, then post-partisan as he quoted Ronald Reagan and said that “the American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government.”

Finally, he was populist as he asked the American people to “send a message” to Congress. Obama doesn’t do populism terribly well. He’s fortunate that Boehner bailed him out.

If Obama took pains to sound reasonable, Boehner went out of his way to demonstrate that Republicans will not be reasoned with. “I’ve got news for Washington: Those days are over,” he barked. “Not so fast . . .
This is just not going to happen.”

I’m sure that Boehner’s inflexible demands played well with the GOP
base. Obama was aiming not just at his base — he indicated that while
Democrats in Congress may have given up on new revenue, he has not — but at independents as well.

Did any of this bring us closer to a resolution of what history will see as a totally unnecessary crisis? Not that I could tell. Nobody will win, politically, from this affair. At this point, the question is: Who loses more and who loses less?