Those who have been wondering just how badly John Boehner wanted to keep his job got their answer and a little more. The soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House, third in line to be president, not only quit the job but gave up his seat in Congress as well, in a move that certified what most observers have realized for a long time: the Republican Party has embraced the doctrine of dysfunction as never before.
It is, in Congress at least, so flawed as to lend itself to almost every cliche — the tail that wags the dog, a herd of cats and so forth — where even its members best describe it as spending 90 percent of its efforts on the demands of 10 percent of its caucus. Those who drove the beleaguered Boehner from office are caught between practical politics and religious dogma that reviles compromise and seems to verge on anarchism.
The result is a party turning in on itself so drastically, there is more than a little doubt that it can govern even with a majority in both houses. It is a party where a public dunce on governance without a clue about what keeps us afloat can actually be taken as a serious candidate for president under its banner.
For five years, Boehner worked to lead this cadre of stone, headed ideologues that have appropriated legitimate conservatism under various labels — the tea party, true Reaganites, etc. — with little or no success. Reagan has to be whirling overhead in horror. Boehner’s policy of appeasement only brought him disdain from them and a majority impotency that couldn’t be corrected with a ton of Viagra. His every attempt at luring them into a workable unity was met with obstinate derision.
So it’s no wonder that he finally saw the error of this strategy, threw up his hands and sacrificed his career to keep them from the stupidity of carrying out their threat to once again shut down the government at least temporarily. With the world constantly on the brink of terrorist-driven disaster, and this nation faced with every problem from immigration to tax reform, these stalwarts of 19th century thinking are concerned about such crucial issues as family planning. Eliminate Planned Parenthood or we’ll kill you and destroy the government.
Or is that really their motive? Isn’t it possible that what they ultimately want is to cut the fiscal heart out of the nation’s soul, to decimate everything except military spending? That, of course, is a hysterical reaction. But having been accused by an architect of the Doctrine of True Believing as being (shudder) a supporter of the “establishment,” I feel for, maybe even understand, Boehner.
Since when did “establishment” become a dirty word, to be hurled at those who understand that the foundation of politics is the art of compromise? Even though I am not Catholic and have no allegiance to the pope, I found his call for unity among the most sensible and inspirational I have heard in this town in a good many years. He is a genuine, valiant seeker of a better world, and if that takes successfully dragging some of his followers kicking and screaming into the 21st century, it will be a magnificent achievement.
In a preview of how difficult it is to overcome entrenched doctrine, three Catholic members of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to attend his speech to Congress. They disagreed apparently, as do the purveyors of mid-evil thoughtlessness, with his attempt at modernity; his effort to expand the church’s inclusiveness and to reaching out to all humanity. Do they consider his views on global warming, immigration, and other issues outside his purview? If so, do they have the same reaction to the preachers of “the moral majority” who rail against the “evils” of our society as they see them?
Sitting behind this impressive symbol of faith in a chair he will give up next month, Boehner cried. Did the pope’s words inspire him to step up his calendar for removing himself to a better life? Perhaps. It was important to him to have brought this leader of his faith to the halls where he has labored for 25 years. Good for him. We can only thank him.
Whoever takes this important post in his stead is in for a tough go. It may be appropriate that he will be doing so on Halloween, given the horror he faces.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Email him at email@example.com.