Boehner Rides the Dragon
If you’re one of those people who pay attention to objective reality you may be asking yourself – “WTF was John Boehner thinking in allowing the debt ceiling extension to become a major partisan battleground?” After all, the man’s not stupid, and no one takes seriously his claims to be on the side of the Tea Party on this or any other matter. How did he get himself into this blind alley?
The answer is ambition.
In the spring of 2010, GOP Speaker of the House gave some fatherly advice to a fellow conservative facing a primary challenge and a series of increasingly bizarre questions from constituents. Boehner’s advice was a distillation of twenty years of tactics from the rational, but increasingly cynical Republican insiders who had up to that point survived the rising tide of weird that has destroyed so much of the Party’s core.
He gave the advice to Rep. Bob Inglis, one of the young Turks of the last great Republican wave in 1994. Inglis asked Boehner what he should do about committed Republican constituents who were repeating to him some wildly inaccurate crap they had heard on TV, radio, and the Internet. Inglis described some of the encounters:
“They say, ‘Bob, what don’t you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.’”
And the best one:
“I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there’s a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life’s earnings, and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, “What the heck are you talking about?” I’m trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, “You don’t know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don’t know this?!” And I said, “Please forgive me. I’m just ignorant of these things.” And then of course, it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff. And now you have the feeling of anti-Semitism here coming in, mixing in. Wow.”
Boehner’s advice was to give them platitudes and let them be, “I would have told them that it’s not quite that bad. We disagree with him [Obama] on the issues.” Don’t confront them or try to correct any of the dangerous lies they were repeating. Don’t try to lead. Inglis was stunned by the advice.
Inglis weakly and indecisively confronted the crazy and lost his primary to someone willing to indulge his constituents’ wildest fantasies. That guy is now working hard to make sure the US Congress fails to pay the bills it incurred when it passed its budget this past April. Our highest and best at work.
Since 1994, the ranks of the Republican Party at the national level have been steadily purged of anyone unwilling to ride the dragon of mob anger. Barry Goldwater once wrote that “We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the Republican banner.” That advice has been replaced by the motto that “there is no enemy to the right.” There are still rational, thinking Republicans in senior national positions in the Party, but staying there has meant making some very dark compromises (see McCain, John).
Boehner is typical of this bunch. His ambition long ago overwhelmed his good sense. His reasoning has been that he gets to keep his very good job, no matter what happens to yours, so long as he carefully patronizes the nutjob fringe. Throughout the rise of the Tea Party he remained convinced that he could manage the mob. Republican politics in our time is drowning in the delusion that we can harness the lowest tactics to achieve the highest ends. In other words, the Party is controlled by people blindly convinced that their own success is what’s best for the country.
Anyone in a position of power in the GOP willing to openly challenge Death Panel Politics has been shown the door. In the 90’s Uncle Barry also said that “the Republican Party has been taken over by a bunch of kooks.”
The non-kooks who remain now are largely compromised and thoroughly cowed. Take McCain for example. He played ball earn the 2008 nomination and to defeat a primary challenge in 2010. Now, too late, he stands on the Senate floor in a pathetic and futile effort to fight back against the same “bizzaro” forces he tried to appease a year ago. It’s depressing to think what that man could have become.
As for Boehner, he is almost certainly entering the final phase of his awakening. His failure in a critical moment to pass even the most ludicrous of show-bills is demonstrating to anyone with eyes that he cannot continue to steer that mob. He’ll probably keep his job for the near term, but the smell of that much blood in the water will attract unwelcome attention. The dragon will eat him in due time.
He, along with the remaining Republican establishment, made a deal with the devil over recent years, compromising credibility for short-term power. Nothing can repair the Party but a bitter internal fight and unfortunately there is practically no one left at the national level with the courage or credibility to wage it.
A new generation of rational Republicans will probably have to emerge from blue-state environments, places where local Republicans have been building power around sound state and county management and pragmatic politics. Working around the edges in predominantly Democratic areas to demonstrate what effective Republican leadership can accomplish these are the kinds of folks who will be positioned to take the Party into the future. But blocked by the Neo Confederates and Fundamentalists at the national level their presence has not yet been felt.
Things will be better for the Republican Party and the country someday, but perhaps not soon.