Here are a few thoughts on our government and politics as we head into the end game on debt talks…
1. John Boehner is in a lose-lose situation here. Either he rolls the very people who put the GOP in the majority –- and therefore put the gavel in his hands –- or he allows the global economy to tank, and have it be blamed on Republicans. Roll or be rolled, would be one way to look at it.
Now he’s taking meetings with Nancy Pelosi, after golfing with President Obama, a known Democrat, and making behind-the-scenes "grand bargains" with same -- thereby arousing the suspicions of...
2. The True Believer caucus, which is once again about to drive the wagon train off the cliff. They exist on both sides of the aisle, and their influence waxes and wanes with the times. As we know, this year’s GOP version is particularly suspicious of anyone and everyone -- including fellow Republicans -- who want anything less than a complete reordering of the governing paradigm. The resulting myopia often exaggerates the strength of one’s political position and leads to political debacles.
3. The principals in this drama are playing to two distinctly different political audiences, and therefore have two different, sometimes conflicting motivations that are contributing to the impasse. The president wants to appeal to 2012 independent, persuadable voters. I know this is obvious, but witness the willingness to put entitlements on the table and enrage his own party’s True Believers. It’s a broad, national audience. He can ride the high horse of compromise, and, according to our poll, it’s a winning entry. And as in any negotiation between Congress and the White House, the president always has the option to “take it to the American people,” as he told House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He appears in the briefing room and frames the debate, lays down the predicate. True Believers never get that. Their insularity means they spend all their time talking to each other and view anyone outside the group as an apostate.
Speaker Boehner, on the other hand, is playing to that very True Believer constituency. It’s not a nationwide electorate of millions; it's 240 Republicans in the House who voted to make him speaker -- most of whom in turn represent, broadly speaking, 700,000 mostly center-to-conservative voters. Boehner has much less latitude than does the president. His only option other than a hard line is to essentially defy his base. But while that is exactly how the president wants to be perceived heading into 2012, it’s a leap into the abyss for the speaker.
4. Finally, isn’t it ironic that those who cast themselves as the stoutest defenders of the Constitution and who promote the genius of the Founding Fathers are the same ones who can’t accept that there is a Senate controlled by duly elected members of the other party, not to mention a House minority that opposes them? The Founders understood the political imperative and expressly designed a Congress that takes it all into account. To say that the opposition should roll over because Americans spoke clearly in the last election doesn’t reckon for the fact that the Founders staggered elections for a purpose, and that voters have sent a Democrat to the White House and to the majority in the Senate in previous elections.