Friday, July 23, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

Steve Benen picks apart John Boehner's entire three-point agenda if the Republicans reclaim the House:

1. The would-be Speaker thinks the Affordable Care Act is an "impediment for employment," in part because it "will it ruin the best health care system in the world." This is idiotic. There's evidence to suggest the ACA will create millions of jobs, and no evidence of the law discouraging job creation. Indeed, the law has barely even started -- what Boehner wants is the old, dysfunctional system that wasn't doing any favors for the economy.

2. Boehner thinks saying "no cap and trade" will help create jobs. In reality, the Democratic energy/climate proposal would create a lot of jobs in a growing global industry, but there's also the question of logic -- Boehner thinks opposing a policy that does not yet exist will create jobs. In other words, a key part of Boehner's jobs agenda is to ... absolutely nothing.

3. Boehner's convinced that Bush's failed economic policies, if we just leave the tax rates in place, will eventually work. Sure, they failed miserably in the last decade -- worst modern presidency for job creation, massive deficits, weak economic growth -- but why should failure discourage repetition?

This is all well-said. Boehner is an interesting figure to me. A comparison to the current Speaker is instructive: say what you like about Nancy Pelosi, but she's an effective, low-key House leader. She could give a damn about making some headlines and is completely focused on advancing a progressive agenda and being an effective leader of her caucus, and I think it's a testament to her abilities that not only has she been so successful at moving legislation, but that there hasn't even been an inkling of a palace coup against her. The same cannot be said of, say, Newt Gingrich, who was constantly intrigued against and was very nearly replaced by John Paxon in the mid-1990s, before getting the full Thatcher treatment after the impeachment fiasco ended.

Boehner, on the other hand, is a loudmouth whose policy ideas range from impossible to unwise. His fussed-over appearance and uncontrollable need to get into the headlines seem to indicate a healthy amount of narcissism. Incidentally, does this guy have any actual fans? I realize that Republicans are excited about the prospect of Speaker Boehner because it will have meant that they won the House, but I have yet to read any conservatives who are actually excited about John Boehner being Speaker. And I suspect he'd be an epically lousy Speaker. Should congressional watchers like Charlie Cook be right and the GOP win something like a 4-seat majority (combined with a still-Democratic Senate), Boehner would be unable to advance his ideological objectives much at all. He would, though, be dealing with a caucus filled with firebreathing Tea Party types demanding debates on Social Security privatization, immigration restriction, health care repeal, etc. That he's been setting some of these themes for the election will constrain himself even further, as he'll be expected to follow through on them. A very small majority will be very unworkable since nearly all Republicans would be crucial votes on bills, and bipartisan support will be harder to come by as GOP gains will come at the heavy expense of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Just ask informed Democrats how much they like how things are working in the Senate these days. Things would probably be about the same in this hypothetical for the Republicans. Pelosi would never have passed anything big with such a tiny majority, and she has much more impressive leadership skills and political sophistication than does Boehner. Additionally, Boehner doesn't really seem to have much media savvy, and being able to keep his coalition together would involve setting the right tone for his opposition, which I have seen no evidence he's been able to do. And Boehner's tendency toward gaffes and overstatements would make him an easy target for satirists and a perfect foil for Obama. Compared to the adversaries he's bested, Boehner must seem to Obama like a junior varsity challenger. After all, Obama has beaten the foremost woman in Democratic politics and (for a time) the most popular politician in America. Facing off with an overmanicured idiot from Eastern Ohio oughtn't to be too much of a challenge.

In fact, I half expect Boehner to be challenged for the speakership by his whip, Eric Cantor, though I somehow doubt Cantor would win a contest based on the GOP's famed emphasis on seniority and "waiting one's turn." I still think the Dems will hold onto Congress, but there are upsides to being on the short end of a tiny Republican majority. Obama, of course, is at his best when facing off against someone. His strength is counterpunching, not necessarily launching offensives. And Boehner looks like just the sort of person he would be able to whip easily.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.