Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Victory For Victory's Sake

Last week, my favorite blogger Mark Evanier posted this recollection from his time in high school in the late 1960's. It's about a protest centered around the Vietnam War and a principal who found himself on the wrong side of the debate. Read the post itself for the details (as well as for Mark's superior writing skills) but I want to lift this bit from near the end of the piece: 

"We won in order to win. We proved we had some power. It doesn't matter how it directly affects anything. It might even make things worse for us. All that matters is that we won and they lost."  

Mark links this observation to the current state of American politics where the object is less about policy and process and more about who can claim the win. This essay was posted on Thursday, September 24th. The next day provided a profound example of this mentality.  

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced he was stepping down as Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as resigning from his seat in the House. 

To any political neophytes out there, you might think it's pronounced "boner" but it isn't. It's pronounced "bayner". But go ahead and think "boner" if it helps you to relax.  

Boehner's time as Speaker has been a contentious one but rarely has anyone held that position without some turbulence. After all, the Speaker is the leader of the entire House of both Republicans and Democrats. The Speaker is from the majority party so one would expect it takes some doing to bring reps from the other side of the aisle into line. In the case of Republican John Boehner, one would expect some problems from the Democrats.  

But no. 

The biggest thorn in Boehner's side has been his own party, particularly those hard right, ultra conservative Tea Party types who have dominated the GOP for nearly a decade. These wing nuts have gotten themselves elected on a platform of take no prisoners, make no concessions in a scorched Earth strategy of rolling back or destroying Federal programs and slashing taxes. Their viewpoint is that government has no business being in business, particularly if its business supported by the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. Nothing less than total victory is acceptable regardless of the cost. If the entire government has to be shut down, so be it! 

Boehner is a bit old school when it comes to politics. He knows how to make things work and how to make deals. Yet a big chunk of his own party isn't interested at all in making things work or making deals. So these right wing nuts have little patience for John Boehner. The Tea Party types have been agitating for Boehner to step down as Speaker of the House for years now. 

I've never been sure what to make of John Boehner. On one hand he didn't seem all that removed from the lock step ultra conservatives with his immediate and dramatic condemnations of whatever President Obama did, including whatever the President had for lunch. Even his facial expressions displayed outright contempt for the President such as at the last State of the Union address. 

Or maybe Boehner just has a problem with gas because to be fair, he kind of looks like that all the time. And there were times when for no solid reason that I can give I felt that he was just saying what his rank and file wanted him to say in order to hold his party together. There were times when I thought Boehner looked like he had enough of these bozos in his own party. 

A few years ago, there was a budget crisis looming (like now) with a government shutdown as a real possibility (like now). There were reports that negotiations between the White House and Congress had produced something akin to a "grand bargain", a massive budgetary agreement that would satisfy or at least appease a fairly broad spectrum of political interests, both on the left and the right. It was a great opportunity for Boehner to arrive at a most significant accomplishment of his House leadership.  

John Boehner walked away, not because it was a bad deal but because it was, in the end, a deal and the hard right in his own party held firm: no deals, especially if Obama gets anything out of it. We get our way, only our way or we'll shut this mother down.  

In the end, the government did get back into business with a budget deal that was piecemeal in its execution and arrived at with less satisfaction than the so called "grand bargain" offered. But the Tea Party declared victory. They had shut the government down to prove their point: they could shut the government down. 

As John Boehner stares down the stretch of his final 30+ days as a Congressman and the House leader, he seems more relaxed. In a month, he won't have to deal with those nutcases anymore. And since they won't be his problem anymore, maybe he can get things done since he doesn't have to suck up to the hardliners anymore. He stated Sunday morning he felt confident a government shutdown could be avoided. 

With the pending resignation of John Boehner, what exactly has the hard right of the GOP won? The answer is the pending resignation of John Boehner. Who will be the next Speaker of the House? Will it be someone more sympathetic to the ultra conservative Tea Party movement? Consider how little Boehner was able to accomplish as Speaker, a more pro-Tea Party leader is going to accomplish less. What if the next Speaker decides that the lesson of John Boehner is "Screw the Tea Party" and do what needs to be done without them. But hard right still wields considerable clout in the House and can still obstruct legislation. In the short term, it's hard to imagine that things will not get worse in the House of Representatives, not better. But maybe that's what it will take for things to get better in the long term. The fever of our political insanity needs to peak before it can break. 

Before his resignation was announced on Friday, Boehner made news the previous day for something different. Pope Francis spoke before the joint session of Congress and he spoke on the subject of political divisions and the harm that comes when we don't work together. Sitting behind the Pope, John Boehner lowered his head and wept.   

Like I said, I'm not sure what to make of John Boehner. But his enemies within have won and all that matters to them is that they won. Meanwhile, who has lost? John Boehner, of course. 

Also, everyone else. 

Be good to one another. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You 

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