House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced today he will step down at the end of October. Facing a revolt from the unhinged segment of his caucus, he extracted a pledge to at least keep the government open.
In an era of egomaniacs and fire-breathing rabble-rousers, this was an act of uncommon grace and selflessness. Sparing the country a shutdown and his party a calamity, he chose to remove himself from the scene. In that regard, he epitomized the essence of public service.
Truth be told, no other responsible leader could have or will please the crazed tea party segment for whom governing is an annoyance and posturing is the objective. There is no reasoning with a couple dozen members of the House who refuse to recognize that a party out of the White House cannot control the government or unilaterally set the agenda.
We wound up at this juncture in large part because of cynical manipulators in talk radio and in groups such as Heritage Action who make money and attract attention by stirring the pot. For them, disruption for the sake of unattainable principle is the mechanism. Self-promotion is their goal.
If Boehner had one fault, it was in excessively accommodating the backbenchers as he did during the 2013 shutdown. Perhaps ruling with a tighter grip would have backfired, but responsible leaders sometimes need to force their own side to take a vote and/or go to the other side to make an end-run around obstructionists.
A new leader should push the caucus to advance a reform-minded agenda. The House should move a tax-reform bill and health-care alternative to the floor. It may have the effect of unifying the conference behind conservative goals and setting the table for 2016.
I do not expect any responsible speaker can satisfy the far right. If Republicans and the country as a whole are lucky, Boehner’s successor will learn to corral them and direct their energies to more productive ends. Boehner’s foes are dancing on his speakership’s grave, but the country and party were fortunate to have him at a dangerous and critical time in history. Good luck to his successor. Heaven knows he will need it.