Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Leadership Vacuum in the GOP

They say nature abhors a vacuum. If that's true, when it comes to the Republican Party, nature must be violently ill by now. I've never seen a major political party so rudderless, so inept and so bereft of even a semblance of leadership.  It's one thing to go out on a ledge; it's quite another to leap off it without a parachute.

For the past three years we've seen the GOP morph into a modern-day equivalent of an anarchist convention. At times it was amusing, others just frustrating, and still others, well, I guess pitiful is the best word I can come up with. But now, with just over a week to go before a debt-ceiling default, this isn't funny or frustrating or pitiful; this is flat out frightening. A majority of the minority party seem intent on doing irrevocable harm to the nation's - and perhaps the world's - economy unless the president agrees to their extortion demands.

We are about to enter into unchartered waters where only an insane person would dare go. But then insanity is what we are talking about here, pure and simple. To put it in context, roughly 80 House Republicans have taken over the asylum and are not only holding the country hostage, but members of their own party as well.  The House leadership, those entrusted with making the decisions that govern the chamber, have decided to lay down their arms and join forces with the lunatics. And the few "moderate" voices left in the party who know this is a fool's errand have elected to remain silent out of fear of retribution. This isn't the Republican Party anymore; it's the Sopranos.

The more I think about Speaker John Boehner, the more he minds me of the sheriff in the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He's become an empty vessel, a "yes" man for the ring leaders. Deep down he knows this stunt will never work, but he's so weak and spineless, he can't bring himself to do what he knows is right.

For the first time since he assumed the mantel, the bullies have offered him a seat at the big-boys' table to break bread with them. It must've felt good not being picked on for once. Three years of being called a RINO and sellout can take their toll on a man, especially one as emotionally sensitive as Boehner. It matters not that he isn't really one of them, he's going along for the ride anyway.

The problem with the spineless, however, is that they can never stand up to the bullies. The truth is that Boehner has been the worst Speaker of the House quite possibly since the founding of the Republic. Under normal circumstances that wouldn't be a problem, but this isn't a normal circumstance; it's a crisis of historic proportions. Now, more than ever, the lower chamber needs a leader who can manage his caucus, not one who is managed by it.

Whatever else you may think about Nancy Pelosi, this would never have happened on her watch. When she was Speaker she ran her caucus, not the other way around. During the healthcare reform debate a majority of House Democrats wanted and passed a bill with a public option. They were incensed when the Senate stripped it out. Undaunted, Pelosi did the only thing possible; she convinced her caucus to bite down and swallow hard. They weren't going to get the bill they wanted, but something was better than nothing. She virtually willed that bill to passage and Barack Obama signed it into law. Can you imagine John Boehner pulling off that feat of magic? The question in itself is comical.

Real leaders lead; they don't cower. The 111th Congress was one of the most productive in history. By comparison, the 112th and 113th Congress was and is one of the least. This is not a coincidence. It comes down to the Speaker. Under John Boehner, the House of Representatives has become a laughing stock. He has enabled the Tea Party faction to drive agendas that have zero chance of becoming law and grounded the entire legislative branch to a virtual standstill.  41 times Boehner has permitted the House to pass a repeal of Obamacare. 41 times it failed to get past the Senate.

Now he has allowed this very same faction to drive the country all the way to precipice. This is no longer about his reputation. That's pretty much a done deal. The stakes are far greater this time around. Unless he comes to his senses and blinks, a world-wide recession could be his legacy.

John Boehner is no ideologue. He knows what would happen if the United States defaulted on its debt. That's what makes this so tragic. The only thing worse than an arsonist is the guy who sells him the gasoline.

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