In Defense of John Boehner

Before conservatives form our customary circular firing squad to deal with concerns about the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner, we might want to consider the possibility that Boehner was dealt a bad hand in the last election and that he has played that hand as well as anyone could have.  It might even be worth considering the possibility that Boehner has been crazy like the proverbial fox in his dealings with Obama.

Of course, frustration with the Republican tendency to cave under pressure from the left was one of the animating forces behind the birth of the Tea Party, and we must acknowledge the possibility up front that Boehner has simply followed other Republican leaders down the path of appeasement.  If Boehner genuinely thought that Barack Obama would agree to serious spending reductions in return for Republican concessions on taxes, then Boehner has misread both Obama's character and his ideology, and he has been played like an old piano.  In that case, those calling for his replacement as speaker could make a case that a change in leadership is needed.

But there are at least three compelling reasons to believe that -- beyond the likely short-term tinkering to stall the inevitable -- there was never any serious chance of addressing the spending that is driving the nation's unsustainable debt.  A sober assessment of the political landscape leaves us with the possibility that Boehner found the path through it that does the least damage to his party's chances in 2014 and beyond.

First, the combination of Barack Obama's narcissism and his radical ideology made good-faith negotiations practically impossible from the outset.  Obama's narcissism is legendary, and narcissists are too absorbed in their own sense of self-importance to recognize any need for the "give" part of give-and-take discussions.  And, through the lens of Obama's radical ideology, both the tax increases on millions of Americans and the weakening of the nation's defenses are desirable outcomes.  Why would hardened leftists try to avoid an end that they have been pursuing for decades?

And it is pointless to try to convince hardcore leftists that increasing taxes on productivity not only weakens the economy, but also reduces tax revenues.  We can assume that Obama and his advisers already know the well-established evidence of the last century in that regard.  For the left, the real agenda is increasing the reach of government into the lives of its subjects, not growing the economy. 

Second, Boehner likely remembered the fact that over half of the voters in the presidential election blamed George Bush for the economic damage wrought by Obama's policies, and it would not be hard to predict that the same news media that echoed Obama's narrative then would paint any principled stand by Republicans as the cause of failed negotiations now.  The news media abandoned any pretense of professional objectivity in their all-out effort to elect Obama in 2008 and in their efforts to re-elect him in 2012, and there was no reason to expect a new birth of professionalism in those newsrooms.  Any attempt by Boehner to focus on the real problem of spending would be drowned out by repetition in the news media of Obama's "fair share" mantra.

Third, it eventually had to occur to the Republicans that they could blame media bias for only so much.  An educated electorate would spot media bias and be insulted by it, but polls and electoral results suggest that half of the electorate simply absorbs the bias and votes accordingly.  The left has dominated our schools for decades, and the indoctrination in liberal ideology has become bolder with every passing year.  So now Boehner and the Republicans face an electorate in which those who are ignorant of even basic economic principles can outvote those who understand those principles.

Looking out across that bleak landscape, Boehner would have known full well that Obama would reject any compromises he offered.  But now Boehner is on record as trying to meet Obama halfway, and the news media has played up the controversy within his own party over those attempts at compromise.  The news media will, of course, still try to blame the Republicans for the economic downturn that will follow the drastic tax hikes, but even voters who liked Obama's soak-the-rich rhetoric are likely to turn when their own wallets take a hit.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Experience holds a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other."  Before Republicans give the left the pleasure of watching the party split over the speakership, we should at least consider the possibility that Boehner's strategy was to give his party a chance to survive until the landscape becomes more forgiving.  Once the electorate learns in the School of Hard Knocks what they did not learn in their public schools or on the evening news, they might be willing to give the GOP's ideas another look.

Dr. Tim Daughtry is co-author of Waking The Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals At Their Own Game.

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