The Great Boehner Deflation

Politico reported yesterday that House Speaker John Boehner is laying the groundwork for that most elusive of all chimeras, the "grand bargain" with President Obama before he steps down. Barring that, he'll push through a clean debt ceiling hike. Either way, this ends four years of constant hostage taking of the nation's—and the world's—economy for short term political gain.

It didn't have to be like this. At his heart, I don't believe Mr. Boehner is a bomb-throwing nihilist as are the members of the "Freedom Caucus". He's been in Congress since the 1990s, and has a concern for the institution. He could have easily followed in the time-honored tradition of seeking to build coalitions with those across the aisle and sideline the radicals in his own party. He wouldn't have gotten everything he wanted, but he would have gotten some of it, and the country would have worked much more efficiently.

But the fever unleashed with Pres. Obama's election was too far gone to combat. No drug could cure it. A rump of GOP radicals, abetted by fellow-travelers, demanded nothing less than all-out war against the White House. Compromise wasn't the way things were supposed to be done; it was defeatism and near-treason. And Mr. Boehner, either from weakness or calculation (or a bit of both), couldn't stand against the tide. Thus we had shutdowns, and credit downgrades, and slower than expected growth because Republicans in Congress were more concerned with neutering the president than upholding their constitutional duties.

Mr. Boehner made the calculation that his political life depended upon placating the radicals. But nothing he could do would be enough for them. Anything other than bringing down the temple as did Samson would be betrayal. And thus, they took his political life.

Now free from that pressure, he's going to ram through what he should have always rammed through, built on a coalition with Democrats. Good for him, at this late date. But that gesture is a drop in the bucket. Behind him he'll leave a roiling storm, with no one on the Republican side able, at this time, to tame it. His legacy will be one of failure and missed opportunities. He could have joined with Pres. Obama to advance part of his own agenda, knowing as he did that compromise is the glue of politics. But he stood at the end of a long road, one of obstruction and nihilism, and he couldn't do anything to change course.

What we're facing now is complete dysfunction in the House, with every viable candidate for Speaker being vetoed by the Jacobins. The solution, of course, is for the remnant of Republicans who actually put country before party to join with Democrats and keep the country afloat until the 2016 elections. But the monster which they created will lash out in violence, and imperil their own political futures. This is a "Profiles in Courage" moment for that "Peter King" type of Republican. I hope they rise up to it.

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