There are a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t want to be John Boehner. But if I was, the presence of Eric Cantor would be up at the top of my list of Weird Ass Critters I Don’t Want to Meet in an Alley”. In the wake of last Friday night’s major budget deal — the one where Boehner, (a guy who once handed out tobacco-industry lobbyist checks on the House floor and plays more golf in a week than a touring pro), kept Cantor and Cantor’s pandering to every grudge the Tea Party could think up at bay long enough to shake hands on a deal with Barack Obama — there’s a lot of talk about, “who won”? While I’m not certain who among those characters can claim victory, I know for absolute certain that none of us out here are any better off.
Since I’ve never read anyone, from my favorite lefties to The National Review describe Boehner as “brilliant” or even “hard-working”, I’m prepared to accept that he is neither. But he is a survivor — from a reliably Republican suburban Cincinnati district — and he is bright enough to understand the ebb and flow of politics. Whether he has a read on the ferocity and petulant, juvenile expectations of the freshman Tea Partiers who seem to be coagulating around his #2 — Cantor — I am also uncertain. But he has to know that this new crowd, infused with the absolutist thinking you expect from a combination of evangelicals, apocalyptics and “super” Constitutionalists, will stop at nothing to get what they see as a divine right. (When both God and the Founding Fathers are on your side in The End Times, you can never be wrong, can you? And if it turns out you are? Well, The Left Behind are all going to be reduced to cinder so who’s going to count?)
Maybe Boehner and Cantor have worked out a clever tactical strategy, in which Boehner plays to the “middle”, treating Obama like he matters in this recent fight over a pittance, (last week’s $38 billion is not even 1% of the annual federal budget), while Cantor goes on stoking the fires of righteous rage among “them that took them” to the dance the Republicans are at now. Maybe. But this being D.C. politics, it seems far more likely that Boehner is expecting Cantor to go for the dagger (and his job) at the next hint of “compromise”, like say, next month when the batshit starts flying again over an increase to the debt ceiling or … letting the United States fall into default. (Expect Mike Pence, Michele Bachmann and the usual suspects to start chanting, “Let it fall … ” by May Day.)
Since Cantor has never said a contrary word about any notion the Tea Party notion has ever belched up, I would strongly advise Boehner to operate under the assumption that Cantor is prepared to milk that braying herd for all they’re worth, and if that means grinding Boehner up for low-protein feed, so be it.
Meanwhile Boehner also has to worry about Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan, implausibly, is the face of the Republican party’s “adult” wing, a compliment he earns for not being directly associated with the likes of Bachmann as anything else. With the ever even-handed national media eager-to-desperate for a Republican, any Republican, who sounds like they were educated at an accredited college, and is making decisions based on quaint concepts like study, corroboration and cross-checking, and are not “inspired” by what the burnt profile of Jesus Christ in their toast “spoke to them” that morning, Ryan is a bona fide rising star. A bright intellectual light! A couple more “big ideas” and he’ll be the next Newt Gingrich. (Clear the office desktops, ladies … ).
It says something about the asylum when a “big idea” plan like Ryan’s grand overhaul of the Federal budget — (guaranteed to be fought over pretty much all next year) — is deemed credible and adult even while offering no brave restraints on the Pentagon’s infinitely vast pool of pork, and treadworn schemes like the one for privatizing (“keep your government hands off my …”) Medicare; a plan that drives millions even deeper into the tender mercies of the country’s insurance cabals. Boehner must spit blood at the thought of putting his face on the call for sucking Medicare away from his party’s Revolutionary War re-enactors, with the tea bag dingleberries hanging off their (China-made) tri-corner hats. But if Ryan’s “adult” plan — thoroughly disemboweled as preposterous (here, here, here and here)– gains traction with “the base” (who, as per usual, won’t have a clue what effects it’d really have, even on them), it’ll be Boehner who will have to sell it.
The all-politics-no-governance ideology of the new Republicans has left most of the ward doors to the asylum wide open. The sight of so many droolers and babblers and fiery-eyed messianics roaming free would have Sam Rayburn heading for a bunker, and as the line goes, you sir, Mr. Boehner, are no Sam Rayburn. But yon Mr. Cantor has a lean, hungry and absolutely craven look.
Meanwhile, the opportunity is ripe for Obama on Wednesday, to play adult again and walk the country through the real world of government finance, where you resolve nothing by focusing on a small fraction of the federal budget, and trying to eliminate or gut social programs that no polling has ever shown a majority want cut. Likewise it’d be useful for Obama to explain that the national “defense” (i.e. the profligate waste end of the budget, which is is pushing past 50%), where we continue to buy — at premium chump prices — every gun and widget the defense lobby says we need is the one area of 21st century government that has to be completely emptied out and re-imagined. Then, while he’s at it he should lay in to the childish fiction that we can go on forever lowering taxes/handing out free money to the (“job providing”) elites who are currently sitting on $1.3 trillion in post-’08 crash assets.