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Intro: "By capitulating to the Tea Party caucus, John Boehner risks becoming the poster child for all that is wrong with Washington."

US House Speaker John Boehner waves a copy of 'The Republican Road to Recovery.' (photo: Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images)
US House Speaker John Boehner waves a copy of 'The Republican Road to Recovery.' (photo: Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images)

Tea Party Tail Wags the GOP Dog

By Megan Carpentier, Guardian UK

30 July 11


By capitulating to the Tea Party caucus, John Boehner risks becoming the poster child for all that is wrong with Washington.

hen speaker John Boehner took the gavel from House minority leader Nancy Pelosi in January, Republicans cheered a new era in Washington, inaugurated by an all-out assault on women's reproductive rights, the administration's signature healthcare bill and a series of negotiations intended to bring government spending to heel. But though the speaker sets the agenda, he quite clearly took his cues from a boisterous set of backseat drivers: his new Tea Party members.

Fast forward to July, and the dewy-eyed freshman class (and their more tenured conservative coattail-riding colleagues) are threatening to take the wheel from Boehner altogether, over what they view as his stubborn willingness to compromise one iota with the administration over raising the debt ceiling to avoid a default by the US government. And while President Obama took to the air to encourage his supporters to tweet their support for compromise (and swamp Capitol Hill with calls and emails for the second day this week), Boehner and his consigliere, House majority leader Eric Cantor, were trying to find some way to keep their own members from jumping ship and voting no on their (relatively) grown-up bill to stave off the debt crisis by giving the Senate something it has any chance of passing.

But it wasn't always this way. Less than a decade ago, in the wake of the compounding infidelity scandals that rocked the then House leadership during the time of then President Clinton's impeachment, former high school wrestling coach Denny Hastert held the speaker's gavel and his consigliere, majority whip-cum-leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, ruled votes with an iron fist. Didn't like a bill? Delay didn't care - it was your job to vote for the leadership's legislation. Have a Dick Armey-led group threatening you with a primary opponent? DeLay was scarier: he'd set up your primary opponents, kill your earmarks, yank your chairmanship and even, in a case for which he was eventually censured, go after your family. He had no need to kowtow to some upstart ultra-conservative group, because he made sure they knew who was boss from the outset (and, frankly, you could hardly get more conservative than DeLay).

Boehner's willingness to let his freshmen members have sway, lest they complain about his forceful leadership style, set up the situation in which we find ourselves today: a small contingent of intransigent ultra-conservatives who care little about the real-world ramifications of a debt crisis and a great deal about ideology and personal brand are holding their own leadership - and the country - hostage to a plan of spending cuts few people actually thinks is desirable or sustainable. Meanwhile, former speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose forceful leadership style made her the first speaker to lose control of the chamber yet keep her preeminent position within her caucus, has managed to hold almost all her own members firm against the bill as well - something she often had trouble doing as speaker, given some of her conservative members.

Boehner has built his brand within the party around being willing to zing the president and being unwilling to be seen as working with him, which was politically convenient when there wasn't an actual problem at hand. But policy problems require political compromise to solve, and compromising with the administration is something he's allowed the Tea Partiers and his own political posturing to make untenable. With some calling for his head within his own party, the Democrats standing firm against the bill he considers a compromise and, now, the clock running out, speaker Boehner may end up the poster child for all that Americans consider broken in Washington - just in time for voters to choose new House members and who they want in the White House. your social media marketing partner
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