Column: John Boehner and the end of pragmatic politicking

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. In a stunning move, Boehner informed fellow Republicans on Friday that he would resign from Congress at the end of October, stepping aside in the face of hardline conservative opposition that threatened an institutional crisis. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The rapid and hectic splintering of the Republican Party was put on full display last week, as John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, resigned his post and confirmed that he will be leaving the Capitol on Oct. 30. Though conservative infighting has become standard fare, the resignation of a high-profile politician, who has an uncanny ability to gather together votes, marks the end of any semblance of conservative moderation.

The Tea Party, championed by Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and others, has torn the GOP apart. While the explosion of far right and far left candidates has provided for a rise in true political debate, the Tea Party’s Libertarian-conservative hybrid and ensuring stalemate has halted U.S. politics. Boehner’s exit confirms that the Tea Party phenomenon must end.

The Speaker of the House traditionally brings together both sides of the aisle and to pass legislation, so that political bickering and infighting does not halt the political process. John Boehner, though a conservative politician, did his best to fulfill this duty as Speaker. The emergence of the Tea Party in 2010, prior to his ascension to Speaker, only made this a more arduous position.

By proclaiming their concern as the sublimely vague “[threats to] security, sovereignty, or domestic tranquility of our beloved nation” the Tea Party and other “grassroots” movements within the conservative spectrum have managed to wreak havoc. Through opposition to nearly all of President Obama’s proposed legislation, these fringe thinkers managed to limit both the President and Boehner’s effectiveness.

The government shutdown in October of 2013 only emphasized this political quagmire; the looming threat of another government shutdown as soon as Sept. 30 made Boehner’s position even more difficult. In hijacking the budget – a beloved Tea Party tactic – these fundamentalists managed to crack a wise and pragmatic leader through sheer stupidity. Fighting over federal funding for Planned Parenthood to the point of a federal government shutdown is an absurd abuse of legislative power. Soon after Boehner’s announcement, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate Minority Leader, eulogized the old Republican party: “By ousting a good man like Speaker Boehner—someone who understood the art of compromise—the party of Eisenhower and Reagan is no more.” The GOP of old, which had some sense of pragmatism and sensibility in the face of political opposition, appears to have been choked out by political fundamentalism and stubbornness. 

In his resignation speech, John Boehner argued, “the prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.” While Boehner claimed that his decision had been a long time coming, and that the Pope’s speech to Congress gave him a visceral realization, this clearly came off the back of building pressure and stress as Speaker. In order to keep the doors of the government open Boehner would have to court Democrats. While traditional politicking calls for the ability to cross the aisle as a porous obstacle, the fringe conservatives who have hijacked the GOP view cooperation as treason. 

In communicating his goal of keeping the government open, and potentially including funding for Planned Parenthood in the federal budget, Boehner sealed his fate. The Ted Cruz sect will not stand by idly as their leader espouses pragmatism. This blind opposition to cooperation will, if left unchecked, ensure that the next President is faced with a quagmire of inhospitable bickering in place of Congress. In place of the envisioned hall of political progress through compromise and deal making, the Tea Party and other fringe thinkers have turned Congress into something more akin to Preston Brooks and his caning of Charles Sumner in the antebellum years. Instead of synergy, these fundamentalists have driven out one of the last bastions of sensible debate, turning Congress into a circus.

The Tea Party currently has an oversized influence on legislation, gained through political sabotage and nativist vitriol. Such political power is useful in overthrowing or outmaneuvering a dominant political force that has too strong a grip on the political process. This situation, however, is not reminiscent of such a fight.

Though Tea Party and fringe Republicans are tremendous public speakers and use their gifts to portray a patriotic fight against tyranny, they are a poisonous political entity. Sticking a wrench in the workings of government, striving for “gains” that serve only to harm the American people. As Boehner said after his announcement, Ted Cruz and others seek outcomes they know will never be achieved, e.g. shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood funding, only to stir the pot and gain the spotlight.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu.