John Boehner surprised everyone last week with his announcement that he would be stepping down as Speaker of the House and also retiring from Congress at the end of October. His speakership has been a source of great consternation for the more activist conservatives in the Republican party; his announcement brought them great relief.
The primary complaint against him has been his lack of strong leadership, an unwillingness to take on President Obama and the Democrat agenda. His response—as well as the response of Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader in the Senate—is that nothing they would have done could have accomplished anything because of the political hurdles they would have to overcome.
Their realism is understandable—to a point. Yes, to get any legislation passed, the Senate, first of all, would have to break any Democrat filibuster with 60 votes. As long as the Democrats hold firm, that won’t happen. If, perchance, a filibuster were to be broken and a bill sent to Obama, it would receive an immediate veto that would be near to impossible to override with the 67 votes necessary.
I understand those obstacles.
What has been lacking, though, with these surrenders before the fact, is courage and a determination to educate the public on the most important public policy issues.
Let’s take just one example: defunding Planned Parenthood. The strategies used to try to achieve this have been less than strategic. The votes have been nothing more than a public show, without any attempt to explain the urgency of the measure.
Republican leadership, with Boehner and McConnell as the point men, has done virtually nothing to accomplish this goal, surrendering preemptively. They provided absolutely no leadership, fearing public opinion of a possible government shutdown coming back on them.
First, the main reason why public opinion blames Republicans for a shutdown (which isn’t really a shutdown, but that’s for another day) is that Republicans allow the Democrats to frame the message. “Oh, look, Republicans’ insistence on defunding Planned Parenthood is shutting down the government! They are evil!”
True leadership would reframe that perception into “We have passed a bill that provides a budget for all government functions except giving taxpayer money to a private agency that tears apart the bodies of innocent children. President Obama wants those children to continue to be murdered in this grotesque way. Of course we have withheld funding. No civilized society should do otherwise.”
Such an approach would show principle, devotion to the sanctity of life, would educate the public, and put Obama on the spot to defend the indefensible. But the current leadership doesn’t have the stomach for that. Might I add that taking such a stance, explained in that way, might actually help in the coming election? Courage is in such short supply that many might respond to it positively.
I haven’t been a constant critic of Boehner; he did some good things, like inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress. I applaud him for having done that.
Yet, even as he prepares to depart, he has harsh words for his conservative critics, getting Biblical by calling them “false prophets.” Be careful, sir. While there may be some on the conservative side who are unrealistic in their expectations of what can be accomplished while Obama still holds the reins of the executive branch, most are simply fed up and disgusted with your lack of a backbone in standing up to his unconstitutional actions.
The selection of the new House leadership team will tell us what to expect in the near future. At the very least, I hope the Republicans will choose someone open to challenging the status quo.
Meanwhile, the next most welcome announcement would be Mitch McConnell’s retirement. A clean sweep is needed.