Saturday, September 26, 2015

Quickies: A Sop To Cerberus

     The excitement among conservatives over the resignation of Speaker of the House John Boehner is entirely misplaced. Boehner loses nothing by stepping down from his post, and by conferring beforehand with various highly placed Republicans and Democrats, has ensured that his successor will be just as much an accommodationist as he. In particular, he has forestalled all possibility of a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, and has virtually guaranteed that the Obama Administration will be presented with a budget that meets all the president’s demands.

     But Boehner could have achieved all that while retaining his office and his elevated position. So why did he decide to resign?

     Cast your mind back to the 2006 elections, after which President Bush announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Those elections transferred control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats, and by substantial margins. Bush felt that the reversal of the Congressional majorities spoke of a realignment of opinions among unaffiliated voters that could only be appeased by a sacrificial offering. Donald Rumsfeld, a popular Cabinet secretary who had become visible due to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, was his choice.

     Similar to the Rumsfeld sacrifice was Barack Obama’s sacrifice of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the 2012 elections. For all the demurrers that Clinton’s departure from her post was entirely her decision, what has followed suggests strongly that Obama and his advisors knew that there were clouds massing on the horizon. American diplomacy was at an all-time low for effectiveness. The atrocity in Benghazi, and the outright lies Clinton had told in support of the “a video caused it” thesis, had endangered Obama’s re-election prospects. The unholy interleaving of State Department operations with the solicitation of “donations” to the Clinton Global Initiative threatened to become obvious. And of course, there was the Clinton email server to be dealt with. The easiest way to defer, at least, the political impact of those matters was for Clinton to leave office, supposedly so she could set to work on her campaign for the presidency.

     Thus it is with the Republican leadership cadre. Boehner has been the target of conservative ire, but he has never been irreplaceable in anyone’s eyes. So he’ll depart, no doubt to take up some sinecure that will guarantee him a cushy retirement, and will be replaced by Kevin McCarthy, whose inclinations are entirely consistent with those of the departing Speaker. The hats will be shuffled, but nothing else will change.

     It’s a move of venerable lineage, in a game as old as politics. A friend of mine once called it an “All-In-The-Family revolution.” And it will have about as much impact on federal politics, policy, and the behavior of the GOP as changing the channel on your television.

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