Not in Praise of John Boehner

I’m willing to stipulate that Speaker John Boehner has to try to preside over an insane asylum better known as the House Republican Caucus, but I still had to wonder if our friend Jonathan Bernstein had been body-snatched when I saw that he wrote that John Boehner not only has done a good job considering his restraints, but he, Tip O’Neill, and Nancy Pelosi belong in a select group of effective Speakers in the Modern House.

Bernstein doesn’t explain what Boehner has done more effectively than Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich, Tom Foley, Jim Wright, Carl Albert, John McCormack or Sam Rayburn. Maybe Bernstein is limiting the “modern House” to post-Reagan rather than post-war. I don’t know.

All Bernstein really says by way of praise is that he thinks Boehner will keep his job and that under his leadership the GOP will “achieve as much as they can, given the severe constraints of divided government and the Republican conference.”

I guess Newt Gingrich lost his job, but didn’t he also accomplish a lot more than John Boehner has accomplished? Exactly what has Boehner accomplished as Speaker? He paid our bills after our credit was downgraded? How many times did Dennis Hastert introduce bills and then have to pull them from the floor for lack of support? How many times did Jim Wright break down in tears and lead his caucus in the Serenity Prayer because he was so ineffective and lacking in influence?

Yes, of course, Boehner has a difficult caucus. But what other leader would cause a government shutdown just to show his own party the folly of their ways and then go on The Tonight Show and call it “a very predictable disaster”? Resignation is a better option than that kind of leadership.

Part of the reason John Boehner is considered to be bad at his job is that his whip team has been terrible at counting votes. This led Brother Benen to term Boehner’s then-Number Three, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the “the least effective Whip in recent memory – helping create a Congress that’s passed fewer bills than any in generations…”

Yes, Benen acknowledged the McCarthy’s job was difficult, perhaps impossible, because of the radicalism of his caucus. But failure to round up votes is different from an inability to count them. Boehner’s team hasn’t just been stymied by their inability to lead; they have been repeatedly surprised by their inability to lead.

If you can’t count votes, can’t win votes, can’t make promises you can keep, can’t make compromises that will stick, and can’t deliver any legislation, they how in the hell can you be considered to be good at your job? The final nail in the coffin is that Boehner hasn’t done what any honorable leader would do when it became obvious that he couldn’t lead his party. He ought to have resigned for two reasons. First, because he doesn’t have the confidence of his own party and, second, because he doesn’t actually think a lot of what his party is doing is right.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com