I grant that the government “shutdown” and the perceived threat of default on the debt was a public relations disaster for the Republican Party. I think that the shutdown problems, like those of the Sequester, were grossly exaggerated by the traditional media and as well as by various left-wing hysterics. Neither of these spending or service adjustments affected the overwhelming majority of our (excessive) government spending.
The default problem could have been much worse. It would have presented the following options: Delay payments to bond holders, axe discretionary spending, and/or cut entitlement spending. Another possibility would have been to continue borrowing anyway, perhaps provoking a Constitutional problem. I believe that had this continued for only a few days not much would have happened that would not have been quickly undone afterwards. However, none of this activity would have served the interests of reducing the size and scope of government.
So what is the “dreadful lesson”? It is this. We do not know how to reduce the size of our Leviathan state. Tea Party critics are correct, for example, that the long ObamaCare stays unaltered or unrepealed the harder it will be to get rid of it. This is not because it will suddenly turn out to be good but because, as with so many other laws, special interests will benefit and will not easily yield. How well have the efforts to find alternatives to Social Security and Medicare gone?
Provoking crises will not work. The current Republican Party does not seem competent enough to devise clever political methods to accomplish the goal of smaller government, even if it were truly willing to do so. (And that is debatable.)
So we are left, politically speaking, with nothing. How dreadful.