Some of us can speak at length
While saying nothing of worth
And others speak with strength
On issues with astounding girth
But the speaker of a house divided
Sobs and cries forlorn with dread
And fails to do what is required
By the job or friend or foe
Then frozen in that fear
Knows not where to go
Applying Hastert Rules so dear
Wrestling with himself, the foe
John Boehner is arguably the least effective Speaker of the House in US history. It has nothing directly to do with his party affiliation, although the divisions in the GOP, especially with the acid agitation of the Tea Baggers, made the job more difficult than it needed to be. Let us start with the opening of the 112th Congress when Boehner announced that every House bill to be considered had to cite the constitutional source permitting it. The House soon forgot the “Constitution rule” and failed to abide by it. Perhaps it was to be expected because they began the charade by leaving out official amendments and other “undesirable” elements. It would appear from their oral reading that we never had slaves in our history. According to that approach we therefore did not need to eliminate slavery by amendment. So we began the 112th Congress with an amazing fairy tale that conveniently omitted reality, but it was reality that seized the institution and Boehner as time passed.
Just what practical knowledge and skills must the Speaker have, anyway? First, he/she must know the makeup of the chamber. That knowledge is more than how many of each party are there. The Speaker needs to know the makeup of each sub-caucus and needs to have the voting records at hand. When Boehner decided and announced that he would follow the Hastert Rule, he virtually eliminated any chance to pass meaningful legislation. The Hastert Rule demands that no vote be taken unless it can be passed by the GOP Caucus with no Democratic votes. It has nothing to do with the recently disclosed shameful and illegal behavior related to Dennis Hastert as a wrestling coach. On the issues of repeal, defunding and otherwise crippling the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the Speaker allowed 67 votes. None of these measures became law, of course, because there is a sizable Democratic Caucus as well as a Senate and a President who have roles in legislation. That was a colossal waste of valuable House time. Had he not announced his Hastert process, perhaps some two or three attempts may have sufficed as a token of opposition to mollify supporters. More attempts than than that speaks to the definition of insanity that suggests that a person is insane who repeats the same actions under the same conditions and expects a different result. The Hastert Rule also guarantees that a confrontational and poisonous process will spoil any chance to get the people’s business done. The Hastert Rule raises partisan goals above goals for the commonwealth; the common good. It is the basis for much of the cry that Washington cannot get anything done. Of course, if the GOP is truly anti-government, then perhaps it is unlikely that they will do things to make government work. Some of them may focus on eliminating government, even at the peril of the nation, but, historically, some of the GOP like Eisenhower built up the nation with wide and bipartisan support.
There were times when Boehner had to pull a bill from consideration because he had failed to count committed votes before calling for a vote for record by the House. This is a fundamental skill and the House has a Whip and other positions to ensure that a count happens. That failure was inexcusable. When Boehner began his tenure as Speaker, he appointed several Tea Party members to responsible positions thus undermining the process of preliminary vote counting. It is not good management to place your avowed enemies in positions where they can block your goals or filter your information. Likewise, the very personality of John Boehner may encourage annoyance or even anger by Republicans and Democrats alike. He sobs constantly and, in the minds of many, his tears roll without sufficient cause. If somebody is moved to tears by a powerful condition or event, we all empathize, but if the tears flow for trivial events, it seems that the Speaker has no disposition for leadership or strength of character. A little goes a long way, and anything beyond that makes him a target for his Tea Party enemies and GOP friends alike. It personally angers me to see the third most powerful person in the presidential succession slobber and twist his face in pain and tears while conducting business. His temperament was unfit for any position where conflict and serious consideration and logic are the thrust of the effort. Can you imagine what the pundits would have said if Speaker Pelosi had use tears as a regular feature? She would have been ridiculed for unprofessional feminine behavior. Pundits have been strangely silent on Boehner and his tear factory. Perhaps there is a double standard that protected Boehner, or perhaps most of us were so disappointed that we said nothing hoping that the tears would stop and that he would consider duty above his fears.
The most telling objective measurement of Boehner’s failing, however, is in the record of the 112th Congress itself that has achieved the least of any Congress in our history. Opportunities presented themselves to the Congress and, instead, they created fiascos of their own design. Ostensibly, the GOP favors fiscal responsibility, but spending $24 Billion for shutting down the government only demonstrated their most irresponsible behavior. Further, it inconvenienced millions of citizens including government workers who had to borrow money to pay rent and feed their families while the House and fellow traveler “legislators” in the Senate agreed to the pain and disruption. Fiscal insanity and partisanship overcame their duty to “We the people” that the GOP proclaimed at the start of the 112th Congress. It was a scandalous drama without a plot and it had no redeeming virtue. That is essentially a definition of pornography, and it was conducted at the highest levels of government, “led” by Boehner. Some pundits have decried Obama “leading from behind” despite his staking out the policies that led to recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression. He also eliminated Osama bin Laden without much fanfare and introduced the first meaningful health legislation since Medicare. Boehner was unable to use logic or leadership to prevent fiscal irresponsibility by the House. Boehner was captive to a vocal minority of his GOP Caucus, the Tea Party. He followed, not led, from way behind. In short, Boehner lacked the courage to demand that his caucus stop wasting the people’s time. Perhaps he feared being voted out of leadership, but, just as death, his loss of the Speakership was inevitable, and we might argue that it had, in practice, already happened through his weakness anyway. He had not effected meaningful decisions and he allowed blunders such as shutting down our government. Effectiveness is independent of political party and, although I favor more progressive policies that invest in America, I would grudgingly proclaim a conservative approach as effective, even if damaging to our commonwealth, if it were so. Boehner failed the final test of effectiveness. His successor will probably be sympathetic to the Tea Party and that bodes ill for policy, but it may not impair the effectiveness of the legislative approach of the next speaker if he does his homework and has the skills to lead. At this juncture, I congratulate Mr. Boehner on seeing the obvious and hope that his golf and tan improve with the additional time he will have to pursue his dreams of par. I hope he gives up smoking.
Perhaps Pope Francis helped him see his position more clearly through meditation or prayer or perhaps by example. We may never know but can only hope that Mr. Boehner does not follow the long line of former politicians trading elected office for lobbying; the final reason why politicians fail to help the commonwealth. Personal greed over the common good seems to be a bipartisan weakness.
1 Oct 2015