Last week Speaker of the House John Boehner made headlines when he criticized the reaction of far right groups to a pending bipartisan budget deal. While no one expects that the proverbial leopard will have changed his spots, we hope that Boehner’s public castigation of these powerful political fringe groups signals a weakening of their stranglehold on American democracy.
It was not so long ago in U.S. history that William Randolph Hearst used his vast media empire to ruin careers and destroy lives. He knew salacious scandals would sell newspapers.
Today, groups like Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Prosperity — Boehner’s whipping boys du jour —don’t have to own the media to control it. They have very deep pockets, which enables them to carry the water for polemic conservative causes via media blitzkrieg. As they well know, wrap your ideology in a good thick cloak of flag cloth and religious dicta and many will follow without question. Apparently, Boehner has grown weary of that particular ring in his nose.
“Listen, I take my fair share of criticism from the right and from the left. You know, I came here to fight for a smaller, less costly, more accountable federal government and this budget agreement takes giant steps in the right direction. It is not everything I wanted. But when groups come out and criticize an agreement they have never seen you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are,” Boehner told CNN reporters.
In reaction to Boehner’s comments the American public was treated to the acme of hypocrisy when Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham replied, “There should be room within the Republican party for honest disagreements on policy, without it devolving into name calling and accusations about people’s motives.”
Not the way these groups have been running things there isn’t. There may be room for superficial disagreements, but when the votes are cast, a dogmatic lockstep better be evident or they will paint you as a godless turncoat.
Even so, we are glad to see Boehner divorce himself of his erstwhile rose-colored (or in his case orange-colored) glasses. If we are to permanently break the gridlock that has beset Congress, the leopards will have to change their spots. Change, thy name is compromise. Boehner seems to understand this.
Last Thursday’s budget deal seems to bear out Boehner’s break from the grip of the extremes. As the House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan compromise panned by conservative advocates, Boehner gleefully announced the vote totals 332-94.
Boehner said the proposal brokered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, didn’t achieve everything Republicans wanted.
Even so, it contains important stipulations for Republicans. It provides a plan to reduce the deficit, relax forced military and other spending cuts under so-called sequestration. It will also avert another government shutdown — and potentially restore a modicum of order to the notoriously dysfunctional congressional budget process.
While no one expects groups like Club for Growth to sit idly by while the forces of reason and moderation knock the wind out of their sails, pragmatists among us should take note of the progress that’s possible once these ideologues are properly pushed back to the margins. Maybe governing from the center isn’t as much fun to watch, but it sure seems to get more done.