Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bounce Boehner

When Democrats had their asses handed to them in 2014 even more resoundingly than I predicted they would, I pointed out that this was, among other things, a message to Republicans that they did not need to do anything differently until Democrats acknowledge their political agenda and strategy are hopelessly obsolete and out of touch with the American electorate, oust their leadership, and re-brand themselves as a different party. However, I also pointed out that as soon as Democrats did this, Republicans would need to make significant changes to their own agenda, strategy, and leadership - or they would find themselves where Democrats are today. Put more simply, neither party really has anything substantive to offer Americans in their current incarnations; but Republicans are winning because Democrats represent the despised and failing status quo policies, whereas Republicans have re-branded themselves as blocking these from being funded, extended, and enacted further.

Democrats ARE Re-branding, However

To my significant surprise, the Democratic Party seems to have caught on to these trends and observations. First the DNC ordered a review of why they lost the election. Sure, DNC Chair Schultz completely refused to acknowledge Americans' fundamental disagreement with the party's agenda, framing the review as an evaluation of strategy and message. But, for one, as I pointed out in numerous pre-election posts, the Democrats' strategic practices desperately need to evolve into the 21st century; so this is still a reasonable, albeit partial, reaction to the problem. More importantly, common sense suggests that high-ranking politicians and committee chairs don't often order audits of their own failures and poor work outcomes, unless they are under pressure to do so. I don't pretend to know what's going inside the Democrats' party committees, but my guess is that after THAT election - Schultz and other high-ranking members are at the top of everyone's shit list. This audit is in many ways her attempt to prevent the likely cleansing of party leadership, which I still think may happen, and new leadership will bring not only updated strategy, but also an updated policy agenda that actually appeals to voters. Secondly, on the legislative side of things, we saw an overwhelming majority of Democratic legislators in the House and Senate abandon Obama in the lame duck session and refuse to vote for his spending bill, instead following the firebrand, Progressive-appealing Elizabeth Warren.

Are Republicans Ready For That?

I unapologetically remind our conservative readers that it took the intransigent, self-indulgent Republican establishment no less than 4 years after a similar electoral rebuke in 2006 to oust detached party officers, re-evaluate strategy, and begin to renounce the disastrous legacy of George W. Bush. In those 4 years, continuing to follow their bitterly despised President, the GOP endured another well-deserved electoral beating in Congress in 2008 - with Americans voting for Democrats to oppose the status quo of endless war and the police state, rather than because Democrats offered substantive new policy. That populist protest vote gave us the Democratic triumvirate that passed Obamacare in 2010, and even despite this, the Republican about-face in 2010 largely came through popular revolt - from the endless Primary lynchings of establishment candidates in favor of Tea Parties like Mike Lee and Rand Paul, to the eventual disowning of Neocon Michael Steele as RNC chair. And looking at the brewing battle over the Speakership of the House, the arrogance of the Republican establishment continues to stand in the way of party evolution into the 21st century, even as Democrats look poised to overtake them in this regard.

Conservative Warrior? More Like Neocon Lackey

Several Congressional Republicans, including stalwart Iowa conservative Steve King - whom I once had a lot of respect for - have come out in support of keeping John Boehner as Speaker on the grounds that ousting him would prevent the Republican Party from using its newfound Congressional gains and control of the Senate to enact the policy changes it has been fighting for. This begs the question - what reason do we have to believe John Boehner will actually do that? The House Speaker who used the phrase "we will fight the President tooth-and-nail" in regards to the December spending bill ended up being the President's only ally in the battle that ensued. Boehner led his own conference to pass the disastrous legislation that would have invariably failed otherwise, as even the President's party's own leadership in the House opposed it.

Why behave in such a cowardly fashion? Why follow Barack Obama in a polarized political climate when your own party base openly hates him, in many cases personally and unreasonably? Why do this when the election just demonstrated that causing gridlock is not a threat to your party as things stand?

I don't claim to be able to read John Boehner's mind, but I as a professional I can only see 2 possible explanations. The first is that Boehner succumbed to pressure from certain elements within the Republican establishment, particularly corporate donors that depend on Federal government payments such as defense and security contractors, as well as Wall St that is notorious for playing both parties. Every shutdown and even every threat of one causes these cartels of malignant scum to lose gargantuan amounts of money, and while in my opinion they could not be strangled out of existence fast enough, perhaps John Boehner - who receives campaign contributions from them - doesn't quite share my disposition. The other theory is that Boehner is genuinely that out of touch with the political preferences of the American electorate, particularly the base of his own party. After all, this poll indicates a whopping 60% of the latter do not want him retained as Speaker. I actually lean slightly toward the latter theory, as it would explain Boehner's overall clumsiness and its contribution to the shutdowns and shaky work of the House during his tenure, although I wouldn't attribute those trends to JUST him by any stretch of the imagination. Whether its corruption or simple incompetence, however, if either is true - Boehner does not belong anywhere near that Speaker gavel.

Scandalous Steve 'Smoochy' Scalise

Then there is the Steve Scalise embarrassment. Personally - and I have made this argument MANY times in defense of both Ron and Rand Paul - I realize that a speaking engagement or other similar association does not indicate political affiliation with a group nor ideology. I've worked in this field for a long time, folks, and politicians have to constantly engage and negotiate with groups and organizations they disagree with or even find odious; because people in those groups vote and have money to give. That being said, the new Majority Whip's history of associating with White Nationalists was a colossal exercise in stupidity and incompetence, because every first year intern in any political office or campaign knows that White Nationalists are toxic, and that no amount of money nor support received from them will balance out the resulting PR catastrophe. Again, in Ron Paul's defense, his association with these groups is quite dated - they were less toxic in the 1980s. In his recent Presidential campaigns, he also fully acknowledged this association while virulently renouncing these groups' views. Scalise admissibly made this mistake when he was very young - 36 is toddler-hood for a political career. But he did do it in 2002 when the toxicity of the association was undeniable; and today, as a Representative pushing 50, his response to it coming back to bite him in the ass was to pretend he didn't realize he was speaking at a White Nationalist conference. REALLY Steve? Even giving Scalise the benefit of the doubt that he did not in fact share the conference's views; his handling of this incident in comedic resemblance to a scene from the film "Death to Smoochy" demonstrates he is a narcissistic and incompetent politician - qualities that were evident to anyone that watches Capitol Hill as closely as I do long before his appointment to Majority Whip.

And that brings the issue back to Boehner. Why appoint such an incompetent, scandalous clown to what is arguably the most crucial position in your party's leadership in terms of political agenda? For those who don't know, the "Whip" is called that because his job is to keep the caucus voting in line with party leadership. And why continue to defend him even as this dirty laundry is taken up by Democrats and aired out for the country to see? Not only is this another indicator of Boehner's incompetence, but it also speaks volumes to the establishment's desperation and reluctance to accept its inevitable replacement by Tea Party conservatives. Scalise's one claim to fame as a Representative has been to consistently talk like a Tea Party conservative but vote with the establishment, and my only theory on why he was appointed was as a last ditch effort to mend the growing divide between these 2 sides. Let's not forget the appointment was made hastily following the Tea Party's unapologetic firing of Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the June Primary, and previous Whip Kevin McCarthy stepping up to succeed him. Again, whether Boehner genuinely expected that insulting the Tea Party's intelligence in this fashion would succeed in appeasing them, or whether he simply figured he was finished in any case if it doesn't succeed - these are more indicators his days in the leadership must come to an end.

Conclusion: Boehner HAS To Go, For the GOP's Sake

Unusually, I won't finish my post with a prediction of whether Republicans will keep or oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House on Tuesday; largely because the equation involves too many complicated variables not easily accessible for public review.
However, I WILL make the prediction that should Republicans keep Boehner, Democrats in the next 2 years will surpass them in terms of being viewed as the party that opposes the rotting status quo, attract a slew of disgruntled voters, and temper Republican success in the 2016 election - though I still highly doubt a Democrat could win the White House.

With the exception of some genuine Tea Party types, Republicans are NOT popular. What persistently keeps them in office is a variety of fringe elements, including libertarians and disgruntled independents, reluctantly turning out for them to keep the Democrats' from enacting more of their disastrous central planning agenda; while Progressives' disillusionment with the same agenda keeps them that demographic home. An agenda and strategy update in the Democratic Party that falls more closely in line with Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders than with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would not only revitalize the Progressive base for Democrats; but would make the fringe elements again consider both parties. Libertarians and independents have a love-hate relationship with the likes of Elizabeth Warren - I know I do. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that we prefer a Democratic Party that follows Elizabeth Warren to a Republican Party that follows Barack Obama, which is what John Boehner has demonstrated he will do. And really, any self-respecting Republican should share that outlook.

It's that simple, Republicans. Bounce Boehner, or be bounced as the party of the 21st century by your allies.


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