Don't Blame Boehner

West Chester, Ohio is one of those places that could be anywhere in the Midwest. 

The roads of this Cincinnati suburb are littered with chain restaurants and stores: Long John Silvers, IHOP, Perkins, Lowe’s, Chipotle, Car-X, KFC, Speedway … the list goes on. Nestled between strip malls one can find dozens of cozy residential subdivisions. 

I spent a lot of time in West Chester during my childhood. Fond memories come to mind of late nights and sleepovers spent at my uncle’s house just off of Interstate 75. My siblings and I would anxiously await the morning, when we would all run through my uncle’s backyard and to the nearby grocery store to buy candy for our brief car ride home. 

Even though my uncle no longer lives in West Chester, the subdivision is remarkably similar now to what it was years ago. Nevertheless, today one would likely find a lot more government-issued black Chevy Suburban SUVs patrolling the block. The congressman from Ohio’s eighth district resides here. His name is John Boehner. 

In the past two weeks, House Republicans have taken the federal government hostage, and John Boehner—by virtue of his position as Speaker of the House—is at the center of this fight. The Tea Party flank of the Republican Party went into debt ceiling negotiations in September with the strategic intent of shutting down the government unless the resolution defunded Obama’s legislative magnum opus, the Affordable Care Act. (Calling it ObamaCare just panders to the President’s opponents, who intend the term to be pejorative).

With Republicans refusing to budge on their draconian requests, the federal government remains shutdown, with government agencies closed for operation and roughly 500,000 federal employees furloughed from their jobs. 

As an intern this past summer at the Ohio Democratic Party and a statewide political campaign based in my hometown, I have been propagandized to despise Speaker Boehner and feel ashamed that we hail from the same state, let alone the same city. But if there’s anything that I’ve learned from following the political discourse in Washington D.C. over the past two weeks, it’s that I genuinely feel bad for the guy. I mean it—John Boehner undoubtedly has the worst job in the entire county. 

Speaker Boehner had the unfortunate job of assuming the highest office in the Republican Party just as it began the gradual process of imploding from within. After the passage of the Affordable Care Act in early 2010, the fledgling Tea Party swept congressional races everywhere, giving Republicans majority control in the House and Boehner the speakership. Tea Party members, however, have thus far seemed particularly adept at disrupting the status quo of American politics.

Boehner’s speakership has been defined by fighting between establishment Republicans, with which he identifies, and the powerful Tea Party minority. He has the quixotic job of being the voice of all House Republicans when his party itself can’t seem to provide a unified front on any issue of importance. Boehner is inherently in a lose-lose situation: By showing willingness to compromise with Democrats he looks weak, but by pandering to Tea Party representatives he isolates the majority of his Republican base and seems more conservative than he actually is.

In regards to the debt ceiling debate, and the resulting government shutdown, Boehner has never been in a more complicated quagmire. As Speaker of the House, the last thing that Boehner wants associated with his leadership is the histrionic failure of government duties. In the past few months, Boehner himself has reiterated the importance of raising the debt ceiling to avoid default and a destruction of American markets. 

Speaker Boehner—while secretly indicating that he might take last minute actions to avoid government default—has stayed firm with Tea Party goals in a desperate attempt to void the Affordable Care Act, which was already legitimized by Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American citizenry though the re-election of President Obama.  

In the process, Boehner has the unique claim of presiding over a Congress that is less favorable than hemorrhoids, dog poop, toenail fungus, and cockroaches, according to a survey conducted last week by Public Policy Polling. 

Liberals like to criticize and mock Boehner, mostly for good reason. Boehner has been a mediocre leader at best, and his relationship with President Obama has been eternally tumultuous. Over the summer, Boehner failed to allow a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate to make it to the House floor for a vote because a majority of Republicans did not support it.

But viewed through the full continuum of congressional Republican ideology, Boehner is one of the good guys. The Republican Party is venturing further and further right of center, and liberals need to acknowledge that Boehner is moderate relative to his party’s norm. The Speaker has often been put in tough political situations as the leader of his party, with any decision resulting in severe criticism. Liberals have continually criticized every aspect of the Republican Party for political purposes, but instead they should revere the few moderate Republicans willing to hold their own against the far right.

 

From West Chester, Ohio to Washington, D.C., the government shutdown has made increasingly clear to me that John Boehner isn’t to blame for the multitude of problems plaguing the modern-day Republican Party. The Tea Party is.