A stalemate in a game that cannot end.
"Once the government reopens and we get the debt ceiling settled, we’ll be happy to talk to them about anything they want to talk about." (Reid.)
"This isn’t some damn game. All we want is to sit down and have a discussion." (Boehner.)
Okay, so it's not a game. But "game" is at least an apt metaphor. Or, no, it's not, because in games, where there is a true stalemate, a rule ends the game, and the players can stop playing. They don't continue to sit at the chessboard until someone concedes.
Talking and having a discussion is also a metaphor. The 2 parties in Congress are not a couple on a date that's turned into a staring contest. Or maybe Boehner is the woman endlessly imploring her man to talk about their relationship, and Reid is the taciturn man who's waiting for her to give up and do what the junior partner in a marriage is supposed to do: what he says.
Alternatively, Boehner is the man who relentlessly pursues his ex-girlfriend asking only for a chance to talk to her, and the woman — Reid — curtly informs him that there's nothing to talk about.
We instinctively turn away. And yet, the 2 sides are, it seems, waiting for Us the People to assign blame to one side or another. We're supposed to decide, and when we've conveyed our feelings, the party that anticipates losing in future elections will cave so our loathing for it doesn't grow any deeper.
But are we still watching? They need us to watch. It's their only way out. They're trying to make it interesting, with war monuments and children dying of cancer, but... look: gigantic hornets are killing the Chinese and Sandra Bullock is floating in outer space!