There is a classic film clip of the great Vince Lombardi screaming his head off at his Green Bay Packers after a blown defensive play. “What the Hell is going on out here? Everybody grabbing out there, nobody’s tackling—just grabbing. Just grabbing, everybody. Grab Grab Grab.”
I’ve been searching for a metaphor what what we witnessed this week, and somehow, I cannot get this image out of my mind.
It started with Wisconsin’s own “favorite” son Scott Walker withdrawing from the GOP nominating cattle call. In classic Walker fashion, he managed to wrap pugnaciousness, self-pity, and a little bit of that old time religion in one speech. Walker said he was quitting because he was “called to lead” (you need to ponder that—it’s one of the ripest moments of synthetic humility we have seen in this election cycle.) He then offered advice to the stragglers amongst his fellow livestock—get out, as he graciously has, to save the Party from the Evil One (not, for this one time, Barack Obama, but you-know-who with the big mouth and the strange hair). Left unsaid, the reasons for a stunning, completely earned fall from top tier to Pataki-level. Scott clearly had no idea what the Hell was going on out there.
Walker’s public humiliation was short-lived, because attention was immediately drawn to someone with far better polling numbers and a lot better balance—Pope Francis. It turns out the new Pope is a lot like a conservative predecessor—John Paul II—both charismatic political geniuses of the first water. Francis didn’t make tackles, rather, he slipped them—he glad-handed, he canonized, he blessed, he spoke, and he allowed pretty much everyone to hear something they liked, or, at the very least, something they feared being openly churlish about. Not everyone was happy with his content, or his rather nuanced decisions on what to emphasize, but you had to work hard to be offended.
Fortunately, we are a nation of hard workers, and amidst the rhapsodic praise, there were discordant notes that Francis might be running free, but he was running in the wrong direction. Some on the right see organized religion (of the Judeo-Christian variety) as a tool to extend their political philosophy, and were very unhappy with Francis’ excessive concern for the poor and the environment. There were those who acted out, on the air and in print. My personal favorite was the deservedly obscure Congressman Paul Gosar from Arizona (R), who announced, in a piece in the conservative Townhall, that he was skipping the Papal address to a joint session of Congress: “…when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.“
Congressman Gosar is the kind of guy who knows a tree-hugging leftist politician when he sees one. And he is also a trained scientist—before being elected to Arizona’s 4th, he was Dentist of the Year (I’m not making that up) so he’s an expert in global warming. And he’s ecumenical-- knows how to treats leftists from every walk of life, from the Vatican all the way to Washington. Gosar is part of the House’s “Freedom Caucus”, an amorphous group of ultra-conservatives who just “treated” another leftist-but-Catholic politician (John Boehner) the same way—by shoving him towards the door. Gosar on Boehner, “Unfortunately, the actions from Republican leadership did not reflect the will of the American people and a change was clearly needed.”
We could ask, “what the Hell is going on out there” but I think most of already know. Gosar and his band of Freedomites are self-professed Constitutionalists—they have a deep and abiding reverence for those sections of the text that proclaim that the House of Representatives as the supreme and only law-making body. And that all-powerful entity is actually run by the 35 or so Caucus people who “reflect the will of the American people.” It’s in there—you just have to look for it.
Boehner, one of Newt’s prime wingmen when the GOP took control of the House in 1994, apparently did not reflect the will of the people—he lacked the appropriate zest for brinksmanship. For example, the Freedom Caucus has discerned a clamor amongst the populace for shutting down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood. Recent polling by Quinnipiac backs them—an overwhelming 23% of Americans agree (a tepid 69%, all leftists, or worse, oppose). How could the Speaker not understand that and fulfill their needs? Boehner became an even bigger target than Pelosi. He was the bad guy. He was the sell-out, holding the people back.
Boehner was sick of it—while he’s not as canny as Mitch McConnell, he’s a dealmaker, dark liquor and cigarette kind of guy. And I think he really wanted to have a signature “Grand-Bargain” moment, but he found that being Speaker in a House where fewer people have your back than want to put a knife in it was ultimately un-gratifying. Recently, Freedom Caucus member Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina filed a “motion to vacate the chair”, demanding the election of a new Speaker. Meadows’ buddies then threatened Boehner outright—either be willing to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, or they would bring up the resolution, and vote in sufficient numbers to require Boehner to get Democratic support to keep the Speakership.
So the man who might have single-handedly brought the term “lachrymose” back into political reporting decided to leave, effective the end of October. Word spread quickly of his intentions, and fair amount of grave dancing went on. Marco Rubio announced Boehner’s resignation at the Values Voters Summit, the crowd cheered, and Rubio stuck the needle in a little deeper. “I’m not here to bash anyone,” Rubio said, “but the time has come to turn the page.”
What happens next? No one really knows. Boehner’s stated plan is that there will be no shutdowns—his last acts will be to usher through whatever bills are needed to keep the government running. But I think that’s overly optimistic. First of all, we are in the middle debate and primary season—and when someone mainstream like Rubio feels the need to feed red meat to the base, instead of trying to appear Presidential to the general electorate, that tells you a great deal. The next Speaker may not be selected by the hard right (that’s up in the air right now) but you can be certain will likely be both less experienced and more fearful.
So, confrontation it will be. There will be a shutdown, and quite possibly a default. Boehner was wrong. His resignation, no matter how well intended, will stop nothing. 20-20 hindsight, he should have moved more forcefully, earlier in his Speakership. The House is not a democracy—it is a place of the exercise of naked power, and as Speaker, he could have used that power to break the fever years ago. Carrot and stick are what make the House (and Senate) run.
But he didn’t. Instead, he proved Lombardi right. You have to tackle. And now, nobody seems to know what the Hell is going on out there. It’s just Grab, Grab, Grab.
September 28th, 2015
Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)
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