Have you ever tried reasoning with a 4-year-old who's in the midst of a temper tantrum? There's no point in it, really. Kids can't hear you when they're in that state. All they can do is scream and cry and kick their feet until they run out of steam. Eventually they'll exhaust themselves and fall asleep.
The one thing you never want to do is cave in and get them the thing they're shrieking for. Rewarding bad behavior only encourages more bad behavior. This week it's a candy bar, next week it's a pony.
So it's a relief to see President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid standing firm against a small band of House Republicans who last week forced the government to shut down most operations in a tantrum over the Affordable Care Act.
This sums up the inanity of Republican opposition to the law. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., actually complained on national news that "Obamacare isn't working," even though it hasn't even gone into effect yet. Oh, except for the part that keeps children on their parents' insurance until age 26, which is working extremely well.
Even so, Sen. Rubio and other members of the GOP's lunatic fringe, led by self-promoter-in-chief Ted Cruz of Texas, gave Democratic leaders an ultimatum. Unless you "negotiate" to weaken, stall or kill the health care law, we will blow up the continuing resolution that would fund it and everything else. Then they pushed the button, whining various iterations of "It's not our fault; the Democrats are refusing to compromise." Translation: Our attempts at blackmail and extortion are failing.
As is often the case, the fanatics have taken a lot of innocent people with them -- like 800,000 federal workers, including the Capitol Police who, without pay, nevertheless protected these very same congressmen from a bizarre attempt to crash through the barriers around the White House and Capitol Building.
The holdouts have no plan to extricate themselves from the hole they've dug.
"We're not going to be disrespected," Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., told The Washington Examiner. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."
Well, one thing is public disgust. Polls show that most people blame Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner, who has lost control of his own caucus. These lawmakers know they're looking worse each minute, so they've proposed carving out emotionally fraught exceptions to the government shutdown. If Democrats refuse, they could look callous and uncaring, unlike the GOP, which looks all touchy feely.
Exhibit A: Republican lawmakers dressed in lab coats, pleading for funding clinical trials for children with cancer -- funding that they themselves had cut.
Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., a former nurse, could barely control her crocodile tears when speaking of parents whose children are diagnosed with cancer. She blamed Sen. Reid for hurting those families by not giving the GOP its way.
"Let's give hope back to those families," Rep. Ellmers said. "I'll tell you, Sen. Reid, you will not sleep until that happens." How well she's sleeping herself, she didn't say. Nor did she show any concern for the millions of uninsured families who had little or no access to affordable health care until last week.
To his enduring credit, Sen. Reid is not taking the bait. Why, he asked, should a small faction of extremists get to defund almost everything, then go back and "save" their favorite programs while nuking everything else? The majority leader said he wants to fund everything, not just a few pet programs here and there. What he didn't say, but must be thinking, is that any exceptions would take the heat off the obstructionists to do their job of keeping the government functioning.
For example, Todd Rokita, R-Ind., who explained his party's stance thusly: "We just want to help the American people get by and through one of the most insidious laws created by man, and that is Obama- care."
Yes, Obamacare is more insidious than slavery. It's so evil, in fact, that millions of Americans began signing up for it the moment they could. Stories across the nation quoted relieved people who were very happy to finally get the insurance they lacked.
Of course there were glitches -- how could there not be? -- but they will be worked out. And of course the law is not perfect. But it can be improved over time. The first step, though is to get it underway and see what needs to be adjusted.
Let's remember, please, that the Affordable Care Act was passed by both houses more than three years ago and upheld by a conservative Supreme Court. It also happens to be very similar to the program that Mitt Romney instituted as governor of Massachusetts, which is working quite well.
And that's the real rub. The prospect of Mr. Obama's signature legislation becoming a success has driven the opposition to the brink of insanity, where the nuclear option seems preferable to a major Democratic achievement.
This standoff didn't begin with health care, of course. It began with Mr. Obama's election and the GOP's oath to make sure his presidency failed. This entailed blocking as many initiatives and nominations as they could and complaining incessantly about the ones they couldn't.
Well, the dreaded health insurance reforms have arrived at last, at least in most places. There are some states whose Republican leaders have made it nearly impossible to access, and more's the pity for their constituents.
In Washington, meanwhile, the longer the fringers hold out the more voters revile them. Maybe they should hold their breath until the country turns blue.
Sally Kalson is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1610).