The Tiny Mind of Boehner: A Jail with No Bars
In contemplating the bizarre, incompetent, and feckless behavior of House Speaker John Boehner over the years, I am reminded of the signature scene from the 1969 Western comedy Support Your Local Sheriff: In it,the sheriff (James Garner) ridicules dim-witted prisoner Joe Dandy (Bruce Dern), deriding him and maintaining full control even though his jail has no bars.
The money scene is from 2:40 through 3:30:
The cell on the right is yours. We don't have any bars yet...but we're gonna operate just as if the bars are there...so while you're in this jail, you stay on that side of the line, and you and I will get along just fine...stay right there and behave yourself."
This mocking manipulation is backed up only by some red paint drizzled on the floor where the bars should be, yet Danby is convinced it is the bloody remains of the last inmate. That blood, like the fanciful memories of the 1995 shutdown that calcify the speaker and many other Republicans, is merely a fiction. Even über-liberal pollster Nate Silver recognizes this, insulting the Beltway conventional wisdom on both sides this week -- and correctly stating that political consequences of the 1995 shutdown are "overrated in Washington's mythology."
Indeed they are, and keep in mind that 1995 was a totally different information universe. This was before Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge had become the major factors they are today, and it was prior to Fox News, hundreds of other talk shows, and the entire right-wing blogosphere emerging as a counter to the Jurassic media. This also preceded many Americans developing the general disdain for government per se they have now.
Silver knows, as do many of us, that the threat of '95 is merely red paint. Besides, the '96 congressional elections were pretty good for Republicans, even with the Dole/Kemp ticket weighing the party down and only the nascent conservative alternative media.
And yet, Boehner remains traumatized by 1995 and is cowering in the corner of a brig, where the bars have been fabricated in his fearful and isolated head. Of course, prisoner Boehner is joined by most establishment Republicans in this fantasy penitentiary. It's the big house for little minds -- drones held captive by the absurd assumption that the entire nation thinks the way the Beltway population does. They remain convinced that the red paint of '95 was real GOP blood.
Moreover, this mindset is combined with a childish and insecure need to be loved, a yearning so strong that jettisoning everything one stands for is a price well worth paying at any time, including in what could well be a seminal moment in history. One of the ironies is that Boehner has had a legitimate chance to be loved -- albeit by the conservative base -- as he was elected speaker following the disastrous reign of Nancy Pelosi and the first two years of Obama. A bigger man would have embraced every opportunity provided by this timing -- the chance to put a stop to the train wreck known as the Obama-Reid-Schumer agenda. It is no exaggeration to say that history has given Boehner a shot at being one of the most consequential speakers in all of history. It is also no exaggeration to say that he is simply not up to the task.
The latest evidence is the recent ill-considered capitulation in the shutdown/ObamaCare standoff, where Boehner and his lieutenants have apparently offered surrender to Obama with the enemy flag within sight. Spooked by an absurd NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of only 800 people -- grossly oversampling Democrats and government workers to boot -- Boehner once again has been cowed by red paint and is a prisoner of imaginary bars in his head.
Yes, this one tiny and preposterous poll has changed everything. Boehner is ignoring the AP poll showing Obama's approval underwater at 37% versus 53%. Lost in a brain fried by tanning-bed overexposure apparently is the significance that Obama is losing with the precious independents -- to the tune of 16-60%! I thought the GOP establishment and Boehner were obsessed with independents!
Also lost on the isolated Boehner is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that park rangers and other low-level functionary bureaucrats are giving Obama and big government a bad name by the minute with their near-criminal acts against citizens, while the ObamaCare rollout is simultaneously imploding and bringing reality-based shame on the entire scam. The Republicans were picking up brownie points by the minute! This was all lost on the Beltway GOP.
But forget polls for a minute, and even public opinion. A speaker of the House should do the right thing regardless of the polls, and the right thing is to fight Obama and ObamaCare in the most aggressive and judicious way possible. There can be legitimate arguments made over the most judicious path forward regarding the coming debt limit deadline, but there is no arguing that holding fast to the shutdown "CR" and ObamaCare delay was starting to work. More to the point, there is no doubt that charging halfway up the hill and then waving the white flag is the worst of all possible outcomes in every way imaginable.
This will lead to bad policy, more ObamaCare, and even less respect for Republicans from all sides. Moderates will lose faith, the base will become even more disgusted, and the liberals will laugh even harder. Given the chance to stare down conventional wisdom and do the right thing in historic circumstances, Boehner has again blinked.
And it is all so unnecessary. John Boehner, once a small-businessman legislator from Ohio -- once a man fully in touch with America and capable of writing large parts of the Contract with America -- is now just a pathetic, frightened shell of his former self. Isolated from the reality of the country, Boehner is now just another creature of the Beltway. He is powerful, arrogant, and wealthy. But his mind is a confined space, surrounded by bars of his own imagining. You can bet Obama and his pals like David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett are laughing.