Like many people inside Ohio’s 8th Congressional District I was surprised when Congressman John Boehner willingly walked away from one of the most powerful — and prestigious — positions in the country. Inside the District, Boehner is unstoppable. Ohio’s 8th has been represented by a Republican since 1939 and with the gerrymandering of Ohio’s districts, the 8th could easily remain Republican for decades.
So why did Boehner walk away?
Religious Awakening Or Political Disgust?
Did the Pope’s visit spark some type of religious awakening in Boehner? The Pope was critical of many of the platforms and views of the GOP. However, In Boehner’s first TV interview after the Pope’s visit his resignation seems more about hardcore right members of his Party. Boehner, in a rare moment of righteous indignation, blasted Party members like perennial nemesis Ted Cruz, as false prophets. He also correctly pointed out, some factions of the GOP are making political promises to their voters, that are impossible to implement. Fortune magazine summed up Boehner’s thoughts this way:
The House Speaker says the right-wingers who forced his hand cynically inflate voters’ expectations of what Republicans can accomplish in a divided government.
But is it possible that Boehner’s exit is simply a case of “you reap what you sow?” His career in the House began with the House Banking Scandal and is ending with the Hillary Email Scandal and sandwiched in between those two events are years of partisanship.
In The Beginning
Despite Boehner’s indignation at Tea Party and Freedom Caucus members, as a member of the Gang of Seven Boehner cast the first seeds of the current era of partisan bickering by refusing to compromise in the non-scandalous House Banking Scandal. As a freshmen Congressman, Boehner and six other freshmen spearheaded the 1992 House Banking Scandal investigation. The incident, which was more an issue of poor protocol than scandal, was an effort to expose the commonly held practice of floating money (kiting) by taking advantage of the antiquated paper-based banking system used by Congress (which, in the computer age, was the real scandal).
Boehner and his cohorts let the public know that they, like the average American, were angry that members of Congress were not playing by the same rules as everyone else. The message resonated with Americans — after all, if the average Joe overdrafts his bank account he is forced to pay absurdly high ISFs. Even though both Parties had engaged in the check-kiting practice, the GOP was quick to politicize the situation. In fact, Republican whip Newt Gingrich (who, by his own admission, kited 20-30 checks) said,
“the scandal reveals ‘systemic, institutional corruption’ created by a Democratic Party that is a ‘reactionary liberal system made up of a coalition of bankrupt big-city machines, out-of-touch union bosses, trial lawyers, left-wing activists and professional politicians.'”
Playing The Political Game
When the story initially broke, it was as if these freshman Congressmen hit the ground running determined — on a holy mission — to rid the House of its impurity (think Jesus and the moneychangers). In reality, though, the Gang of Seven and Newt Gingrich held onto the information for months (Newt for years) while they strategized how to proceed.
It became a game of political treachery — and invoked a ‘throw the bums out’ mentality among voters. And, just like Tea Party members of the current era — Gingrich and his Republican minions refused to compromise or work with members of the Democrat Party, because the GOP had calculated the risk — and knew as a Party they would win. By taking the no-compromise approach to the issue a handful of GOP Congressmen reversed the balance of power and, in effect, nullified the average American’s vote as everyday citizens came to sincerely believe the ordeal was, in fact, scandalous.
Inoculating the Herd
To convince the public of a story’s truth, information must be released carefully (but this approach can backfire as two Tea Partiers recently learned) and in a dose the herd can handle. Boehner and Gang, with the guiding hand of Gingrich, kept the ‘this isn’t fair’ message in the public arena — minimizing the protocol while inflating the number of bounced checks.
Had the GOP been able to break the story when they learned of the practice (because all the political ducks were in a row), they could have claimed Providence was on their side, but since the information was uncovered at a politically inopportune time, the GOP leadership patiently waited and released the story just in time to interfere with upcoming primaries. They rightly understood that since the Congressional Districts were redrawn (due to the Census) any incumbent tainted by the Scandal would face an uphill battle for re-election. More importantly to the GOP — they knew more Democrats than Republicans were implicated in the ordeal.
Only One Guilty of Check Kiting
With the advantage of history, it is apparent that very few Congressmen ousted by the ordeal actually bounced any checks (no one bounced a check) or committed any crime. Five members were convicted in the fallout: one for check-kiting and the other four on loosely connected crimes associated with the House Bank — like illegal campaign funding issues. One unintended (or possibly intended) by-product of the change in power was an extremely large class of Freshmen Congressmen in 1992 and 1994, which undermined the continuity of power inside the House.
Fast Forward: The Benghazi Committee
This political gameplay of ‘whatever-it-takes-to-win’ worked exceptionally well, giving the GOP control of the House for the first time in four decades. The approach was successful enough that it became a reusable template — as seen in the current email scandal surrounding Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (except this time it is desecrating dead Americans by using them for political gain). Just like ISFs, Americans understand email, Americans understand the need for email to be secure, but the finer issues of accepted email protocol is minimized — and even more tragic — what really happened in Benghazi is no longer the focus.
New reports suggest Boehner is the mastermind behind the “use Benghazi to bring Clinton down” approach of the committee. The investigation — which at this point has taken longer than the Watergate Investigation — was indirectly responsible for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s failed run for Speaker of the House, because he said,
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.”
In this environment, members have started to turn on each other. As the Freedom Caucus blocks, stalls or threatens to shut down the House to force a candidate they like to be chosen as Speaker, Republican whistleblower and member of the Benghazi committee affirms what has long been assumed — the committee is a thinly veiled effort to derail Hillary Clinton.
GOP — Afraid To Govern?
And the current inability of the House to elect a new Speaker suggests that the GOP — although highly skilled at saying No — is incapable of governing. Despite being given complete control of Congress last November, moving legislation forward (even their own agenda) has taken a backseat as bickering House members embark upon an epic, chaotic showdown between the moderate and extreme factions of the Party. It appears the ‘Southern Strategy’ implemented by president Richard Nixon is unraveling.
How the election for Speaker will pan out is anyone’s guess. Some say Boehner outplayed his opponents while Gingrich says his former protégé is an idealist who, by removing earmarks, lessened his leverage with House members. As the infighting continues, will we have another government shutdown? Will all this lengthen the era of gridlock? Who knows.
The real question many want answered is: When will politicians learn that to govern one must be willing to compromise?