Speaker of the House of Representatives-Republican leader John Boehner announced his resignation to a somewhat surprised media on September 25th, 2015. Speaker Boehner stated his last day will be October 30th, 2015 and offered his support to Majority leader Kevin McCarthy to succeed him as the backdoor politicking, maneuvering and positioning for new leadership roles increases in intensity in the days and weeks to come. We can also expect warm and fuzzy testimonials by republicans, a few democrats and some political pundits trying to portray Boehner as a compromised leader who had little choice but to appease the far right in his party during legislative battles with democrats and the President. A man of reason who tried valiantly, yet unsuccessfully to contain the far-right in his caucus and their impetuous decision making–resulting in a paralyzing legislative branch of government. And framing his resignation as some form of political martyrdom.
Don’t fall for it. Ignore these viewpoints and any temptation you might have in seeing John Boehner as a sympathetic Republican leader. What we’ve witnessed the last five years under his reign as Speaker of the House has been horrible leadership, a party before country governing style, unprecedented levels ofdysfunction, obstruction and historic lows of legislative accomplishment. During his tenure of ineptitude, we had the government shut down for 16 days over opposition to the Affordable Care Act. A LGBT anti-discrimination Bill that passed with bi-partisan votes in the Senate never received a vote in the House of Representatives. Boehner never put the Senate bi-partisan Comprehensive Immigration Bill to a vote. As America experienced the tragedy of Sandy Hook, which took the lives of 28 people, including 20 children due to gun violence, Boehner stuck to his pledge when he became Speaker of the House–never to introduce legislation to toughen gun laws in this country. The natural disaster of Hurricane Sandy that pummeled the east coast corridor, saw John Boehner drag his feet in supplying the funds because his Republican caucus was reluctant to pay for it without cutting something else. It wasn’t until Boehner was criticized on national television by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, that approval of some funds made it through the House of Representatives.
John Boehner’s incompetence persisted with other high profile leadership failings on full display with his handling of the comprehensive Farm Bill . Boehner didn’t allow a vote on a provision in the Voting Rights Act to be renewed in the House of Representatives as it would have provided some remedies to the disastrous ruling by the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder that strengthened the use of strict voter ID laws against American citizens. Boehner threatened to allow a lapse in funding for Homeland security because President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Lest not we forget the fiscal cliff crisis that almost led to an unprecedented default on US debt. This attempt at hostage taking was the result of Boehner’s tactical gamesmanship with the full faith and credit of the United States in his attempt to earn political credibility with the extremists within his party.
The best definitions of leadership informs us that good leaders have a vision, vivid picture of where to go, what success looks like; and how to achieve it. Communicate clearly and with passion. Disciplined, integrity that develops trust and dedicated. Gives credit of success to others and takes personal responsibility for failures—along with being fair, creative and humble. John Boehner’s leadership style was one of appeasement, confusion and crisis management. Within his petulant caucus, John Boehner decided to appease instead of lead by elevating Steve Scalise, a man who stated years ago that he is “David Duke without the baggage” to the 3rd highest ranking member within the House of Representatives. Mind you, David Duke is a former grand wizard of the KKK. A strong leader would have avoided a choice like this because of the optics, substance and message that it sends to the Congress and the world. A strong leader, once made aware of “The Meeting” that took place on Obama’s inauguration in 2009 where some Republican leaders had dinner and discussed their commitment to obstruction and trying to make the President a one-term president–once elevated to speaker, would have said–the nation’s business is more important than reflexively opposing the President of the United States. Boehner chose to follow this script of obstruction under his leadership. By the way, one of those leaders at the meeting in 2009 was none other than Boehner’s most likely successor, Kevin McCarthy, so don’t expect changes.
A strong leader would tell his caucus that the nation’s business is bigger than trying to implement the ‘Hastert Rule’ where the Speaker attempts to pass legislation by getting the majority within the majority of the party in power. Boehner decided to govern primarily under this anti-democratic rule and in essence-ignored democratic members in the House of Representatives until he needed their votes due to Republican opposition. This decision was one of the reasons why Boehner presided over one of the least productive Congresses in American history.
John Boehner has decided the ongoing scorn of his leadership has become too much to bear. Boehner is leaving battered, bruised and embarrassed by the legislative carnage he’s leaving behind. Boehner’s departure has emboldened, not weakened the most hard of right-wingers within his Republican caucus. Crisis management has become the new norm in funding the basic functions of government, attempting toundermine the office of the Presidency on the international stage has become acceptable governance within the Republican party and approval ratings remain around 9% in polls.
Pope Francis might have freed Boehner’s spirit to leave, but under his leadership–American democracy has been damaged. Cry on that, Boehner.
Writer, trained Social Worker and Mental Health Therapist. Husband, father and anti-racist at my core.