Friday, February 27, 2015

The Essential Uselessness of John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner. (photo: AP)
House Speaker John Boehner. (photo: AP)

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

27 February 15
t has long been the opinion of the management of this shebeen that obvious anagram Reince Priebus is the emptiest suit in American politics. I see no reason to change that now. However, as this ongoing brawl between the Republican majorities in the two houses of the national legislature makes painfully clear, Speaker of the House John Boehner is making a strong bid to overtake Priebus, even though their problems are quite nearly the same. Priebus's suit is empty because being the chairman of the Republican National Committee doesn't mean a whole helluva lot when you've got a flock of gozillionnaires willing to finance the campaigns of people that the RNC would rather not see traipsing around the landscape with their underwear on their heads. What power does Priebus have over Sheldon Adelson? Or the Kochs? Or any of the other panjandrums who can construct entire presidential candidacies from deep in their vaults? Similarly, Boehner has no apparent control of his majority because so many of them are from safe Republican districts and can find electoral sustenance from the same new universe of sources on which the presidential candidates can call. It is unimaginable that Boehner would threaten a recalcitrant conservative House member with a primary. He'd get laughed at. The fact is that almost every former source of political power in the Republican party has been rendered largely a figurehead.

Thus does he find himself being outmaneuvered in the ongoing cockfight over tying the funding for the Department of Homeland Security to the president's executive orders on immigration. Thus do we find Boehner looking for a way out and flopping around like a trout in the canoe.

And on Wednesday morning, Mr. Boehner and House Republicans emerged from their private meeting saying they had no plans to act until the Senate actually sent them a bill. "I don't know what the Senate's capable of passing, and until I see what they're going to pass, no decisions have been made on the House side," Mr. Boehner said. "The House has done its job to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president's overreach on immigration, and we're waiting for the Senate to do their job."

That dog, he declines to hunt. Boehner knows that he's already got Representative Steve King going after Mitch McConnell's head because the Senate Majority Leader has proposed to decouple the passge of DHS funding from the attempt to defund the president's entirely lawful actions on immigration, because McConnell knows the political stakes of being hung with a shutdown over such a transparently fraudulent equivalence. Boehner knows he can no more control King and the rest of the xenophobe caucus any more than he can make it stop snowing. So he has no choice but to blame the Senate, which must endear him to McConnell.

Several options that members have suggested, said someone with knowledge of the discussions, include a short-term funding measure until the House and the Senate can meet in a joint committee to resolve the differences between their plans; a short-term funding measure until the Senate passes Ms. Collins's proposal; or adding back in language to repeal Mr. Obama's 2014 executive actions, but leaving untouched his 2012 protections for the young immigrants known as "Dreamers." Another possibility is passing a bill to fund the department - but with the condition that the financing would end if a recent ruling by a federal judge to halt the president from implementing his immigration executive actions is overturned. "There wasn't really a clear message of where we're going," said Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho.

This would not be a problem for an actual Speaker of the House. Do you think that Sam Rayburn would take on an issue of this magnitude without having "a clear message" of where his majority was going? Tip O'Neill? Hell, Newt Gingrich? The fact is that Boehner has a majority that is far beyond his control because a) he's not a deft enough politician even to try, and b) he has nothing with which to knuckle his people into line. To wit,

If Mr. Boehner and his leadership team do ultimately try to pass a "clean" funding bill that has no immigration-related amendments, probably with the support of Democratic members, the Republican base "would be extremely angry," said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. "So this is very, very delicate territory for our leadership."

There is no Republican party any more. There is only a universe of competing power centers, some more influential than others, but all of them operating on their own agendas and by their own standards and for their own purposes. This apparently unwieldy system can exist -- and even, for the moment, prosper -- because of how the Supreme Court has changed the nature of politics in this country. But the natural forces in this new universe are inescapably centrifugal. They pull the politics away from formal central authority. It is going to take politicians raised entirely within this new universe to set the lines of authority within it, and that is most assuredly not John Boehner. Until then, sooner or later, everything is bound occasionally to fly apart.
+12 # bmiluski 2015-02-27 11:11
Pierce asks:.....Do you think that Sam Rayburn would take on an issue of this magnitude without having "a clear message" of where his majority was going? Tip O'Neill? Hell, Newt Gingrich?
and then answers it with:..........
There is no Republican party any more. There is only a universe of competing power centers, some more influential than others, but all of them operating on their own agendas and by their own standards and for their own purposes.

And we can thank good old Newt Gingrich for this.
+6 # politicfix 2015-02-27 12:26
Ahh! Relevancy! This piece of Trash thinks he's relevant. He committed treason by inviting Netanyahu, from a foreign country to lecture our Congress without any discussion with our President because his view differed from the Presidents. The President, who deems himself irrelevant, does nothing. Why? Because he's controlled by the financiers. The Congress takes the job of handling the Trash. They decide not to take it out but to censure it and it's allowed to stay in Congress. They can do this because they believe they're relevant. They are so relevant that they govern themselves and aren't subject to the same laws as the people are. Even if Boehner were sent to the Supreme Court, who believe they are relevant, and can never be touched no matter what they do. That's the one part of the Constitution they love and won't let go of. Oh so relevant! They allowed Justice Thomas, who committed crimes, to be given a bye because they can. No one in government is taking out the trash. It stinks to high heaven and now there's plenty of it in Washington to go around. The people believe they have no choice, and that they're irrelevant. Now what? Enter Bernie Sanders. The only one who is screaming and willing to take out the Trash. People are so scared and beaten down that they don't see a good thing when it's right in front of them. How many chances do you get in life? The country is running out of chances. Forget Democrat and Republican labels. We need a leader to take out the Trash!
0 # HowardMH 2015-02-27 13:19
So True and it is a real shame that Bernie doesn't have a $Billion to get him started on a real campaign. Yes that is Billion with a "B" because Wall Street will go after him with everything they got to stop him.

+6 # Citizen Mike 2015-02-27 11:26
The DHS borders on becoming an American Gestapo, so anything which limits its scope of operations is most welcome. The combination of withdrawing its funding and enhancing the fair treatment of immigrants is a most welcome development.

The conservatives wind up advancing a progressive agenda, restricting a huge, dangerous and un-American agency which has been impinging on our civil liberties and enhancing fair immigration policies. I am amused to observe this.

+8 # nickyused1 2015-02-27 11:31
Repugs are beyond help. As a bunch they couldn't get out of a phone booth themselves. Maybe they're looking for phone booths.
0 # bmiluski 2015-02-27 13:42
Maybe they're looking to the koch bros. to buying them that phone booth.

+11 # davidr 2015-02-27 11:38
"There is no Republican party any more."

That's the kernel. So what will be the strategy of "[Republican] politicians raised entirely within this new universe to set the lines of authority within it"? What can be the strategy for organizing a party that is hostile to all the forms & practices of government? a party that basically rejects organization by consent of the organized?

New leadership that may emerge within such context will, of course, be seen as an enemy to the rest of the party. That's the situation that Boehner finds himself in. It would be his situation even if he were the smartest guy in DC. It will be the situation of his successor.

The erstwhile Republican Party, as Pierce notes, is now in possession of a few rich men and various corporate interests. Its loyalty is to them; its enemy is government. It is becoming what was called in pre-War Italy a Fascist Party. The lines of authority in a Fascist party derive from a strongman and will entail, above all, threats & violence.

The politician raised within this new universe and creating its lines of authority will be wearing a black shirt. Force will constitute authority among a party that opposes, on principle, the civic basis of government.

+12 # Buddha 2015-02-27 11:54
To be honest, I wish us Progressives had this much power over the Center-Right pro-Wall St pro-TPP Corporatist Wing of the Democratic Party. We just get at best lip service, more usually just ignored.
-8 # Shades of gray matter 2015-02-27 12:16
The essential uselessness of this article!!!!

+2 # hkatzman 2015-02-27 12:54
When you start with the premise that "government is the problem," as Reagan did in his first inaugural address, where do you go next? What is the motivation for running for office, if not public service? What is the resulting form of government?

The result is anarchy. I believe government is where "we, the people" work together to better our society and our lives. I believe in activist government. But when our united power is dismissed as the problem, then there is no check on the consolidated power of a few wealthy individuals. Do we want a "dollarocracy" where those few with the most money rule the rest of us, or a democracy where we work together in self-rule?

There is an interesting comparison with the Weimar Republic, Germany between the wars, where the society was continuously demeaning its form of democracy and fondly remembering the strong-arm autocratic rule of Bismarck. The result was the unmourned collapse of democracy and the rise of the Nazi party.

Where do we go when we so despise our own self-rule?

+1 # RMF 2015-02-27 13:02
Great article, very informative. And Pierce accurately states the conundrum the GOP (and the country) now face...can we say hoisted on their (our) own petard.

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