In the 1986 black comedy "Ruthless People," Danny DeVito plays a man who goes home one day to find his wife has been kidnapped. He then gets a call demanding that he pay a ransom or his wife will be killed.
What the kidnapper, played by Judge Reinhold, does not know is that DeVito hates his wife. He was, in fact, planning on killing her himself.
So the kidnapping is actually a stroke of luck for DeVito, who not only refuses to pay, he calls Reinhold's bluff and tries to goad him into killing his wife.
Replace DeVito with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Reinhold with Tea Party leader Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and you pretty much have today's government shutdown fight.
For all of Reid and other Democrats' protestations about the shutdown, they are secretly happy that it happened because they are certain it will hurt the Republicans and boost them.
That is the flaw in Cruz's defund strategy: He is trying to threaten the Democrats with something that they are not only unafraid of, but with something that they really, really want.
Ever since the shutdown drama of 1995-96, Democrats have assumed that any government closure will be both a) wildly unpopular and b) blamed on the GOP. Many on the Right --- I include myself in this number --- share this basic underlying assumption.
Unlike the debt ceiling debate, which has serious fiscal consequences, Democrats know that a shutdown has fairly limited impact.
Government employees will retain their jobs and even get paid, albeit belatedly. So it is worth the risk to them.
The polls do indicate that the GOP is getting more of the blame, though both the Democrats and President Obama are not doing so hot either.
Cruz's side argues that Democrats will suffer if the shutdown is linked to keeping Obamacare on the books. "The question will be whether Harry Reid will demand a government shutdown to force Obamacare on every American," Cruz said.
Tea Partiers are belatedly trying to shift the focus by pointing out the Democrats' role in the shutdown. After all, it is happening because they have ruled out anything other than a clean CR.
Democrats have not only not tried to avoid a shutdown, they have subtly done what they can to ensure it. Reid opted to not open the Senate over the weekend and purposely scheduled Monday's session late in the day.
President Obama made no calls to GOP leaders last week and only rang up House Speaker John Boehner hours before the shutdown commenced.
When a reporter pointed this out on Twitter, spokesman Dan Pfeiffer petulantly responded, "In the White House, we can dial out AND receive calls. They had those in the Capitol when I worked there, I assume they still do."
In other words, the White House's spokesman literally said it was not Obama's responsibility to reach out to Congress and try to prevent the shutdown.
As Americans for Limited Government put it in press release today, "Now, Harry Reid has decided that rather than let the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have any say at all in the implementation of Obamacare, he would prefer to just shut down the government."
That is true as far it as goes. It would have been a lot more helpful to their cause if they had spent more of the lead-up to this fight making that argument instead of denouncing anyone on the Right who questioned their strategy as part of the "surrender caucus."
Nevertheless, we are in the midst of a great political gamble: Will conventional wisdom about how a government shutdown plays out be borne out? Or is that wisdom wrong?
One thing is for certain: It is a bet that Reid, Obama and the rest of the Democratic party are more than happy to make.