Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mr. Speaker

     This weekend, Politico posted an article highlighting Speaker John Boehner's weak speakership.  This has created quite stir recently among pundits and journalists alike asking the question of how weak of a speaker Mr. Boehner is.  Some are calling him the weakest speaker in history.  While this may be a rash statement, John Boehner has clearly had his struggles.
     The Speaker of the House is a magnanimously important position to hold.  It is second in line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president.  The Speaker appoints committee members as well as presiding over the Committee on Rules.  This is arguably one of the most important and powerful committees since it decides on what topics are debated upon when a bill is introduced to the floor.  The Speaker assigns legislation to committees and determines legislative agendas.  Not to mention he/she is the leader of their respective party.  One of the major roles of the Speaker is to reign-in their party in passing their proposed legislation.
     This is where Mr. Boehner has struggled most.  With the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, Boehner has had trouble corralling the far right and maintaining the support of the center.  While Boehner's speakership has been widely criticized, I do not think he deserves all the blame.  He has had a difficult time keeping the far right in line and their agenda has ballooned into a hodgepodge of conservative malice.  Congressmen such as Eric Cantor (R-VA)  have made Boehner's life a nightmare despite being the number two in the House.  Despite Boehner trying to compromise with the President as recently as the debt crisis in the summer of 2011, he received flack from his colleagues because they wanted to reject anything the President set forth.
     I still do not think that John Boehner was the right man (or woman) for the job.  While he was a more centralized congressman, he was elected during the rise of the Tea Party.  Eric Cantor would have made a better Speaker from the mere standpoint he would have been able to reign his party in better than Boehner has.  However the danger here is that now the party shifts even farther to the right with a more conservative speaker such as Cantor.  I believe Boehner's woes hit an all time low in December when he could not even get his own bill to pass on the floor of the House to save the nation from sequestration.
     While many on the right were not fond of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she was great at strong-arming legislation through and gaining the support of her Democratic colleagues.  In the Politico article, authors Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen stated Boehner "...has little ability to work his will with fellow Republicans."  They also quote Pelosi who stated if Boehner were a woman, he would be known as the weakest Speaker in U.S. history.  Again, this may be a rash and premature statement from the left, but Pelosi is echoing her opponent's disdain for the job she did as Speaker and how gender may have played a role.  Boehner is also quoted as saying, "My job as the leader is to build my team, encourage my members, help provide leadership to my members and committee chairs and let the institution work."  Boehner is almost undercutting his responsibility as leader of the party in trusting that legislators will vote the party line.
     When the Tea Party first came to prominence I believed they would be good for the Democratic party because they had driven a wedge between moderate Republicans and themselves.  They certainly have given Boehner his fair share of headaches and trouble.  While my theory proved to be true for a short while, the Tea Party has demonstrated that they are unwilling to compromise on issues as simple and fundamental as raising the debt ceiling and it is their way or the highway.  Recently on NBC's Saturday Night Live, cast member Bill Hader was playing Democratic strategist James Carville.  While playing the role, Hader stated the Republican party's strategy is to act as if they won the election and rather than go over the President, they will just go through him as if he were a ghost.  I found this statement intriguing because Tea Partiers are still carrying on business as usually and are taking obstructionism to a new level.
     As Speaker, Boehner must gain control of this runaway ship that he should be captaining.  It seems as if Boehner has lost all power and influence in his party and is now trying to beg for their forgiveness and confidence by not even initiating meetings with the President.  He is now looked upon unfavorably by trying to strike a bargain with the President.  President Obama was willing to go farther than most liberals wanted him to on entitlements during the budget negotiations.  Boehner and the Republican party were still unwilling to compromise. 
     Despite what Rush Limbaugh might say, compromise is part of politics and is possible.  Just look at the Tip O'Neil/Reagan years or even the Gingrich/Clinton years.  As the leader, Boehner should not be cowering in fear of what his party may think but should be telling them how things should go.  Boehner was spared his job after the 2012 election but if he continues on the present path, his job and moderate conservatism could be in jeopardy come the 2014 midterm elections.              


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