Boehner and Outside Influences


“I am as conservative as they come and there is nothing we have done in this Congress that violates conservative principles.”

That sums it up and sets it up.

Speaker John Boehner made that point last week while criticizing several outside interest groups that have raised havoc with the Republican agenda in the 113th Congress, shut down the government for 16 days at a cost of $24 billion to American taxpayers, deliberately fomented division and distrust among the populous, and prevented the government from governing.

The antagonism between Boehner and the outside groups has nothing to do with conservative philosophy. The leaders behind the organizations the Speaker targeted are not traditional conservatives or neo conservatives; they aren’t conservatives at all. They are anarchical libertarians, bent on the  destruction of the Federal Government or limiting it to such an extent it can no longer have an impact on American life, from international security, to transportation, to health care, to education, or cyber security.

This isn’t about the tea party, either. The tea party was and remains a broad loosely aligned political movement of people that probably lean libertarian, but according to survey research hold views not nearly as rigid as those espoused by organizations that claim ownership of the tea party patent and the riches it represents.

That is not, of course, the portrait painted by the media. In wave after wave of etch-a-sketch reporting over the last week the descriptions were of House Speaker John Boehner criticizing “conservative groups” and “tea party groups” and “conservatives” and “leaders of the tea party movement” that opposed the Ryan-Murray bipartisan budget agreement (passed by the House 332-94 late December 12) before the measure was even introduced. So much for substance over politics.

I didn’t hear or read all of his remarks, but I never heard him criticize conservatives or the tea party.  He zeroed in on the Heritage Foundation and the Senate Conservative Fund, controlled by former Senator Jim DeMint, a classic 19th Century nullifier, and the Club for Growth, run by a former member of Congress who couldn’t make it as a member of Congress. All three are anarchical libertarian structures loyal to no political party or any commonly accepted conservative ideology.

So this dispute isn’t about the future of the Republican Party, either. I believe I am correct that one of these organizations has actually contributed more money to the defeat of Republican candidates than Democratic candidates. Will the real Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) please stand up.

These political puritans, similar in their strictness to those who landed at Plymouth Rock, seem consumed by their own righteous indignation and misguided “wait until the next election” approach to politics, which frees them from any responsibility to govern between elections and allows them to live the pipedream that next time voters will finally see the light and give them a mandate to tear the government down brick by brick, board by board. That next election, of course, never comes.  There are excuses made, their core gets angrier, the contributions keep flowing in and so on and so on and so on. Life is good.

There has been a great debate about the conservative and liberal philosophies of government and individual freedoms and responsibilities since Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp squared off against Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy nearly 40 years ago. For the most part it has been enlightened, transformational, and progressive. It has reshaped both political parties and reshaped the way people think about themselves and those who represent them. But make no mistake about it, this ain’t it or even part of it, or an extension of it.

This certainly isn’t about governing, either. You can’t govern if you don’t act. It is as simple as that.

Public policy will only change if Congress and the President enact legislation to bring about change or if the President governs through regulatory fiat, which he is doing because the Congress is not acting.

It doesn’t matter whether you think government should be bigger or smaller, you can’t make it happen without acting, without engaging in the process of governing. Those who opposed the budget deal and the debt ceiling legislation and the continuing resolutions, the farm bill, cyber security, immigration reform, actually empowered their adversaries by doing so and gave the media red raw grizzled meat on which to chew. It’s ironic that those two dozen members of Congress who continually say no out of fear or obstinacy, and therefore do not govern, have no hope of ever achieving their goals for their constituents.

Saying no all the time when the government is a massive $3 trillion enterprise, is not an option. It is self defeating.

I can’t speak for the majority of Americans. Hell, why not. Everybody else does. The American people would like the Speaker and his Democratic counterparts to re-establish control over the governing process, marginalize those who don’t want to govern, and stand up to outside interests at both ends of the spectrum, which are able to hold a relatively few members of Congress hostage. It is these members of Congress living in fear for their political lives, who have embraced a new approach to governance: I won’t commit to vote for anything until after the primary. Make no mistake about it, the problem exists on both sides of the aisle, but is preeminent among Republicans because of their majority status in the House and media’s compulsion with conflict and bias.

The Speaker made what Columnist Kathleen Parker called bold and consequential statements last week. He risked party unity “in the interests of national well-being.” Rep. Steve Scalise, the head of the Republican Study Committee, the pre-eminent conservative-libertarian organ among House Republicans, did the same, with the dismissal of his staff director, who violated the basic tenets and time-tested precedents for Congressional staff in defying his own boss and the Republican leadership in this dispute. But to show you the degree of misguided loyalty and illusions of grandeur that drive some insurgents, libertarian writer Tim Carney called the staffer “universally popular.”

Even Christ wasn’t universally popular.

The public airing of the dispute is healthy, but it also gives the media another reason to focus misleadingly and exaggeratedly on dissent among Republicans while crises in government ranging from health care, to national security, to illegal immigration, to basic nutrition standards, unemployment assistance, and national energy policy, to say nothing of sequestration as a serious fiscal policy, go unresolved.

Then, too, are the other media unmentionables, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose responsibility to govern is as acute as Speaker Boehner’s, regardless of their majority and minority status. This idea that a minority does not have that responsibility simply because it is not a majority is a joke minorities in both parties have been perpetuating on the American people for too long. When voters failed to give Ms Pelosi 218 Democrats in the House in 2012, House Clerk Karen Haas didn’t drop by her office with a certified Get Out of Jail Free card.

The same holds true for Majority Leader Reid, who absolves himself of the responsibility to govern because he doesn’t have 60 votes. Anyone in the Senate with the skill and the courage to govern has sixty votes at their command.

Leaders Reid and Pelosi need to follow Boehner’s lead, defend not condemn the institutions in which they are privileged to serve, and concentrate as best they can on the national interest, even if it means sacrificing some party or ideological unity. Again, if I may speak for most Americans, they could care less about the purity of party or ideology.

Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.