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C. Fraser Smith: What game are they playing?

At their hilarious worst, the 1962 New York Mets couldn’t get out of their own way.

Their manager, Casey Stengel, cemented their immortality with one of his famous off-the-wall quotes: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The question became shorthand for anything or anybody that seemed hopelessly inept.

Can anyone think of an organization about which this question could be asked today?

Republicans in the House of Representatives may be in danger of losing the “representative” part of their title. Who wants to claim them? Not many of us. A recent poll showed them, once again, with ratings near the single digits.

They are so bad as to trigger depression among the ranks of those they have idled via the shutdown. It’s as if the tea party wanted to create a federal workforce as inept as anti-government forces insist it is. Some political science professionals have written that this is precisely what they wanted.

They want to torpedo Obamacare, to be sure, but the overarching objective is to enfeeble government. In this, they seem to be doing a passing job. In a sense, federal workers are being punished for actually doing their jobs. If you think government is the problem, anyone working for it is your target.

The message is getting through — as it would for any of us in similar circumstances.

“I feel pretty demoralized,” Aimee Harmon Darrow, a financial analyst in the Baltimore office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told Joel McCord of WYPR. “It’s been several years of feeling kind of under attack for working for my government. As if it was a bad choice I made.”

Tim Rhodes, who works at NIH in Bethesda, told McCord: “I think it is pretty common to feel kind of beat up.”

The Republicans may be worse than the Mets. The Mets knew what they were supposed to know. They didn’t try to change the rules in the middle of the game. They were at least some of the timeless lovable losers.

What can you say about House Speaker John Boehner? He does not seem to control his House. But maybe, if he can find a way out of all this, he will keep his speakership away from the tea party leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.

This crowd has painted itself into a corner — but maybe it’s a corner they’re comfortable with. They want to “negotiate” a bill they passed so as to kill it. They seem to think the American people will believe that President Obama is behind the shutdown. They are brainwashing themselves.

Not that Obama and his Democratic allies have helped as much as they should have with Obamacare. It’s almost as massive a program as the GOP insists, and there’s been too little effort to bring us along.

Even the Democrats’ decision to call it Obamacare was a mistake. Made it partisan — instead of something done to expand medical insurance coverage and start to get a handle on costs. Labels matter.

And now, it seems, House Republicans need a way to end all this. In the old days, the old rational days, they might be looking for a fig-leaf victory, something to hide the fact that no, they can’t play this game.

The Mets and Casey had way more class. They knew they couldn’t play — and they could laugh at themselves.

They weren’t threatening a fragile economic recovery — or taking bread off the table in 800,000 homes.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.