President Obama repeated that there were no winners in the battle that has raged for the last two weeks.
But he behaved like a victor, giving a stern lecture to the people he’d forced to back down.
He says he wants parties to come together in a spirit of compromise and reach agreements.
His words may have precisely the opposite effect. And he may not mind.
He, ostensibly, is appealing to moderate Republicans, over the heads of the Tea Party.
Exploiting the division
There are some interesting signs that the strain between radicals and the centre is reaching a breaking point – this piece on the subject in The Atlantic is worth reading.
But I think it is a mistake to see the Tea Party as something separate from mainstream Republican sentiment in a large part of the country. I see little evidence of a burgeoning moderate centre in the party.
There certainly is a big debate about tactics, and there are some who are eager to sit down and work out deals.
But the Tea Party is picking itself up out of the dust, and looking around for the next fight, either with its own side or with Mr Obama.
The president apparently wants to exploit this division.
He said the American people were frustrated and fed up and the way Washington did business had to change.
Politicians had to stop listening to talk radio, lobbyists and bloggers and noise from the extremes.
He suggested three priorities – the budget, immigration reform and the farm bill.
“We are Americans first. And that’s why disagreement cannot mean dysfunction,” he said. “It can’t degenerate into hatred. The American people’s hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours.”
There are many Republicans in Congress who would agree in principle with those sentiments.
But few of them will relish this high moral tone from the president, whom they accuse of refusing to negotiate.
Perhaps the president does have a tin ear when it comes to understanding the concerns of his opponents.
But this is probably more about positioning, ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
If he does get deals done, then he and Democrats look good.
But if it all ends in chaos and more obstruction, he’s already told voters who is to blame and what is at stake.
By posing as the only adult in a room full of squabbling children, he’s more likely to make their tantrums worse in the future.
And the voters may have had enough of hysterics.