Boehner’s Blues

Maybe it’s just a lingering touch of the holiday spirit, but we believe that a few kind words should be spoken on behalf on John Boehner.
The Speaker of the House has been quite beleaguered of late, with sharp criticism coming from every direction. To the president and his liberal supporters Boehner is an ideologue obstructing a reasonable agreement to avert the “fiscal cliff” for typically plutocratic Republican reasons. As far as the conservatives are concerned, Boehner is all too willing to compromise bedrock principles for mere political expedience. The mainstream press has predictably taken the president’s side, while the conservative radio shows are all demanding that Boehner be banished from the party, and with no one left in the middle these days Boehner has wound up with worse poll numbers than Nancy Pelosi has ever suffered.

This is a sorry state, indeed, given that Pelosi is perhaps the most horrible woman in the history of the republic. Although the Republican party might well require a change of management, as losing ball clubs often do, Boehner certainly does not deserve this ignominy.
We are sympathetic to the conservatives’ complaints, being unrepentant right-wingers ourselves, but it seems to us that Boehner’s critics are not taking into account the difficult situation in which we finds himself. A tax hike on anybody will indeed be harmful to an already unhealthy economy, thorough entitlement reforms truly are urgently required to stave off federal insolvency, and the Republicans are also correct in arguing that they won their House majority running on such sound ideas, but somehow it is also true that Obama was re-elected on a platform of soaking the rich and continuing to throw vast amounts of imaginary money into the governmental sinkhole. Obama is better positioned to keep his promises, having no fear of a “fiscal cliff” that will provide him tax hikes and defense cuts that he much desires and would not otherwise be able to achieve, and Boehner has few options.
Conservative purists continue to insist on the possible policy, which is to keep all the Bush tax rates and start swinging the budget axe in some direction other than the Department of Defense, but Obama’s threatened veto power means that isn’t a possibility at all. The only choices that political realities make available to Boehner are tax hikes on the rich or tax hikes on everybody, and while the former will enrage that base of his party the latter will enrage the entire country. Given the resentful mood of the country and the still-potent power of the press, along with the plentiful blame being ascribed by even the most conservative media, it is an easily foreseeable certainty that the Republican party will wind up being blamed for the inevitable recession by an electoral majority of the country.
Some conservatives, including the usually astute Charles Krauthammer, contend that Obama can be forced into a reasonable agreement because he doesn’t want to be saddled with an economic downturn lasting through his second term. The president didn’t suffer much from the lull that lasted through his first term, though, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to use another recession for as much government expansion as the earlier one allowed. Other conservatives argue that the public can be persuaded it was Obama’s intransigence that led the country over the fiscal cliff, but they should consult the most recent election returns before judging the public’s willingness to be persuaded by even the most obvious truths. Still other conservatives are taking the old Roman line of “fiat justitia, pereat mundus,” or “let justice be done, even if the world perish,” but this seems to lack the pragmatism that has traditionally characterized the conservative movement.
Those who would damn Boehner as a spineless political animal for conceding to any “revenue enhancements” should at least credit him with the savvy to correctly assess the political landscape. It is possible that a shrewder negotiator could have won a more favorable deal than what Boehner will eventually get his caucus to agree on, and it is certain that a more telegenic and personable politician would have stood a better chance in the public relations battles, but it is not clear who that remarkable leader might be. One shudders to think of Pelosi returning to the speakership, and even Boehner’s harshest critics on the right will miss him if that comes to pass.

— Bud Norman

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