WHEN SPITE AND PATHOLOGY ARE PARAMOUNT…. They don’t mean it, but congressional Republicans claim to hate the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. If their rhetoric is to be believed, the idea the GOP came up with in the first place is an un-American assault on freedom. Or something; it’s hard to keep track.

As is it turns out, plenty of Democrats support the law, but are ready to deal on the mandate. This liberty-crushing, commie plot could be done away with fairly easily if Republicans picked up the phone and told the White House and/or Democratic leaders that they want to work on a policy alternative.

But they don’t want a deal — they want to complain about the provision they could eliminate if they were willing to work on a deal.

Republicans aren’t likely to bury the hatchet with President Obama over the healthcare reform act, their Senate leader said Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), fresh off an unsuccessful vote on Wednesday to repeal healthcare reform, said not to expect Republicans to strike any agreements with the president.

“I think it’s clear that this is an area upon which we are not likely to reach any agreements with the president,” McConnell said on conservative pundit Laura Ingraham’s radio show.

Well, it’s “clear,” only to the extent that McConnell and his party don’t want to try to improve the law with their own ideas, they want instead to simply destroy the Affordable Care Act and maybe come up with something worse.

This isn’t rational, and it’s certainly not serious as a matter of public policy. Greg Sargent talked the other day about how conservatives talk about the health care law in “fervent and even messianic tones.” At this point, it’s not clear exactly why conservatives hate the law so much, or even whether this is still about health care. We’re well past the point of reason — the law’s destruction has become, as Greg put it, a “new Holy Grail.”

There’s something unhealthy about this kind of zeal. Indeed, it’s quite literally unproductive — Republicans could advance their own interests, pursue their own goals, and move the law in their own direction, if they’d only be a little less unhinged.

Jonathan Chait’s take on this rings true.

If this was a dispute about policy, of course, Republicans would be willing to pursue alterations. Democrats didn’t like the Bush tax cuts, but if Bush had been willing to tighten up some tax loopholes, maybe lose the estate tax cuts, then they’d have been happy to entertain some alterations. While they may not have liked the law, they could surely imagine ways to improve it that could meet with bipartisan approval, especially given President Obama’s professed willingness to negotiate changes. They could do so while still pursuing their preferred model of health care reform.

But the Affordable Care Act has become to the right a symbolic totem that has little to do with actual policies. Its very existence is an enduring emotional wound…. The GOP is operating not on the basis of some analysis of public policy but from a sheer pathology.

Similarly, Aaron Carroll’s challenge to congressional Republicans is still out there: “If the mandate so offends you, call on your representatives to support a bill to remove it right now. It’s not like there aren’t other means to achieve the same incentives…. So there’s the challenge. Support a fix to the mandate right now. If you won’t, then you obviously aren’t that concerned about ‘liberty.’”

McConnell effectively answered the challenge yesterday — he’s not interested in advancing his own ideas — delivering an important message about his party’s approach to governing.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.