President Obama (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

This week has been so frustrating that most American have begun to assume governing is impossible and the government is populated by fools and knaves. Any chief executive and management team so inept at merely keeping the business’s door open would be dumped and replaced by people who understand it is their failure when the enterprise can’t even operate.

What would it look like if each player in his or her own way behaved responsibly in the current knot of fiscal issues?

The president would have said he under no circumstance wanted a shutdown, but neither could Republicans expect him to defund his signature legislation. Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio would have privately assured the president there wouldn’t be a shutdown but leveled with him that he needed some help with his troops. The president would have figured out what he could give the speaker to get enough of the House grownups on board.

Next, the speaker’s allies and responsible House members, who vastly outnumber the hot heads, would have voted down those itching for a confrontation and taken a discrete deal on the continuing resolution. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada would not have prevented anyone in his caucus from agreeing to anything (as is apparently the governing rule now); if he did, the president would have individually persuaded members to get with the program. And Republican senators would have confronted Sen Ted. Cruz (R-Tex.) before he did damage and would have given him no support for his defund antics.

That would be reasoned and effective leadership, not unusual until, it seems, the last six or eight years.

Likewise, in response to the president’s refusal to “have a gun to his head” on the debt ceiling, Boehner would have disabused both the president and his Republican troops of the idea that he’d sink the credit of the United States. The bargaining chip isn’t playable, so the president can stop pretending to be threatened, and the speaker need not beg for a negotiation on the major budgetary issues. The president should not have to think up reasons to avoid engaging the opposition. Once again, rational voices in both houses in both parties would be willing to stand up to the nihilists.

None of this is extraordinary. And to people who have worked in other enterprises, it is mind-blowing to see our highest elected officials get so lost in the weeds of partisan confrontation that they lose track of the higher purpose of their offices — to run the government, to improve government and to make their fellow Americans’ lives better. The latter requires a positive agenda, cooperation and understanding the other guy’s must-haves and can’t-gives.

Right now this  — responsible leadership — is entirely out of the realm of the president’s imagination and political repertoire. So we have a ship of state drifting toward the rocks and the crew at each other’s throats. No wonder the public hates them all.