You might think I would have a little bit of schadenfreude at John Boehner doing a faceplant yesterday when his “Plan B” scheme for the fiscal cliff couldn’t even be brought to a vote, thanks to the intransigence of Boehner’s backbenchers in the House — and you’d be right! I do! But mostly what I feel is sympathy for the man. Boehner (who is incidentally my representative) isn’t my favorite politician by a long shot, but I think he’s not an entirely unreasonable man, and I think he can read the political weather better than most. In a better time, with a better House, he might be an effective Speaker.
It’s not that time. His problem is he’s saddled with a batch of stompy petulant children who are still in denial that the majority of American voters cast their ballots for Obama explicitly, and implicitly for Obama’s plan to start raising tax rates on the highest-grossing Americans. They also appear to be in denial about the fact that if some deal isn’t reached, a deal they agreed to a while back will go into effect, raising taxes anyway, and after that Obama’s position becomes even stronger, since he’ll have the tax changes he wanted. If the House then refuses to lower middle-class taxes without also cutting the taxes on the rich, Obama and the Democrats will gleefully pummel them on it from here to Timbuktu. And if they think the public won’t blame them for all of this more than they blame Obama, that’s just one more thing they’re in denial about. This is reality that John Boehner has to work with.
My pal Joe Hill has labeled Boehner the “most ineffective Speaker of the House in US History.” I wouldn’t dispute Boehner is currently probably feeling as low as a Speaker can get without having criminal charges laid against him, but then again, could anyone have herded these particular cats? I don’t feel I’m entirely going out on a limb here when I say that the 112th Congress of the United States is going to go down in history as one of the mostly rankly partisan, stupid and incompetent congresses in the history of our nation, a genuine nadir of the ignorant, selfish, short-sighted and politically blinkered. And while neither party gets off scot-free in that assessment, the large majority of the ignorance, stupidity, incompetence, selfishness and short-sightedness is on the GOP side of the aisle — and they were the party in charge of the House. Boehner is not blameless for the current state of things, to be sure. But you try corralling ignorant, stupid, selfish, short-sighted ideologues who just won’t listen. Tell me how you do with it.
Boehner will never be remembered as one of the great Speakers. But the fact remains that the House remains in GOP hands for the 113th Congress, and Boehner, while not great, is almost certainly the best the House GOP can do. If Boehner is challenged for the speakership — and after last night’s faceplant, he may well be — anyone who replaces him will be more partisan, more tied to the “we’ll take the whole country down if we don’t get our way stomp stomp stompy stomp” philosophy of the right wing of the GOP. A couple more years of that and not even gerrymandering and low-turnout mid-term elections will save the GOP House majority.
So, a little — just a little — sympathy for John Boehner. He’s not spectacular at his job. But things could be so much worse if he wasn’t there plugging away. Think about what it must be like to have that be the reality of your job, every single day.