As many of you know, John Boehner is my representative in Congress. Because of this, I get a fair number of people asking me via the Internet what the hell he’s thinking with regard to this whole shutdown thing. Because, of course, me and Boehner are totally tight, and he calls me up nightly to commiserate and share all his plans, even though I’ve never voted for him and it seems highly unlikely that I ever will. Be that as it may, someone apparently needs to explain him, and since he’s my guy, that job falls to me.
At this point, I think there are actually three reasonable explanations as to Boehner’s actions in the last few weeks, “reasonable” being “having some possible relationship to reality, whether I like it or not.” They are:
1. Boehner has gone full teabag, decided that the looming specter of Obamacare is manifestly worse than the possibility of defaulting on the US’ debts and thereby jeopardizing the entire global economy, and is saying, more or less, fuck it, it’s been a nice run for the US but now it’s time to let China take a turn at running the world, ha ha ha ha those suckers.
2. Boehner recognizes that the Tea Party contingent in his caucus is unrealistic but also recognizes that not spinning this out until the very last minute will cause the Tea Partiers to rebel, jeopardizing his speakership. So basically he’s stuck pretending to be irrational about the shutdown and debt limit until we get to the point that everyone (and I mean everyone) except the most irrational Tea Partiers are terrified about the default, at which point he can (quite reasonably) say “look, we gave it our best shot,” and send along a joint debt ceiling/government funding bill that takes care of this problem for another year, at which point everyone will be in election mode and in no mood for a shutdown.
3. Boehner realizes that his Tea Party wing is a bunch of irrational and fundamentally undemocratic yahoos who would rather watch everything burn than not get their way, and that this fact represents a danger, not only to the GOP but to the function of government in the United States at large — but that the tea party still remains popular with the GOP base. And so Boehner is strategically acceding to their demands, not because he is weak but because there is no other way to show the moderates and rational conservatives of GOP that the Tea Party represents a clear and present threat to the party and to the function of the nation, and they will, no joke, be happy to run the country into the ground if they don’t get their way. The moderates and rational conservatives, thus shocked, wake up from their slumber and actively engage in grassroots and funding of rational GOP candidates to fend off another wave of frothy Tea Party dim bulbs in the primaries, thus keeping the GOP a viable institution rather than punting itself further down the path of unelectability as the demographics of the US change (despite the GOPs efforts to disenfranchise as many poor and/or non-white people as possible, which is, at best, a temporary tactic).
Of these three options, I see 1) as the least likely and 3) as being rather too complicated for Boehner, for whom Machiavellian-level intrigue has never been noted to be one of his characteristics. That leaves 2), which, frankly, sucks, not in the least because it leaves open the possibility that Boehner will at the last moment have a failure of nerve and refuse to allow a vote, plunging us all into dangerous and uncharted territory because he’d rather be the Speaker in Hell than deposed rank and file in, if not Heaven, at least a world where a rump of bratty children are not allowed to push the United States to the brink of default via a temper tantrum.
My own personal opinion on the matter is that Boehner is a fundamentally decent conservative who believes in the processes of the government , and realized too late that he was dealing with people who, whatever their superficial commonalities in political philosophy, don’t have the same respect for process that he does. When should have he realized this? Oh, the opening months of 2010 might have been nice. But on the other hand up until this point, it’s all been reasonably manageable , which is to say the Democrats and Obama have been willing to concede points to keep things going. From a practical point of view, you can’t blame the GOP for using a tactic that works.
The failure of the Tea Party people is in being either unwilling or actually unable to recognize that Obamacare was a bridge too far for them. Obama’s been through the Supreme Court and the 2012 election with it, and won both times. There is absolutely no percentage for him to concede anything now, especially when the majority of the public (correctly) sees this shutdown and debt limit crisis as a fight that the Tea Party manufactured and drove the GOP to have. Obama’s far from being his most popular these days, but even there he has a substantially larger margin to work with than the congressional Republicans, who are in aggregate about as popular as cholera.
So here we are. And now here Boehner is. We’ll see where he, and we, go from here.