So John Boehner is stepping down as Speaker of the House. To paraphrase various Monty Python bits: And there was much rejoicing.
Pretty much from across the spectrum, I'd say. To conservatives, Boehner was a squish on all the things they care about (the Ohioan had the temerity to want to avoid a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding). Earlier today, Donald Trump greeted Boehner's resignation by saying, "I think it's wonderful, frankly." That sentiment is widely shared by many, perhaps most Republicans pols.
To liberals, Boehner was always ready to help defend war, surveillance, No Child Left Behind, the unpaid-for Medicare expansion under Bush, you name it.
And for libertarians, he was terrible in virtually every possible way. He was a go-along, get-along kind of guy always willing to do the bidding of state at the expense of the individual. And despite professions on his part of having a small-government vision, he could never quite get around to naming a program he was, you know, actually willing to cut or even trim in any sort of way that might impact things.
As it happens, in my latest Daily Beast column, which went live just a few hours before Boehner announced his resignation, I wrote this about his lack of vision and clarity when it came to minimizing the size, scope, and spending of government:
Just weeks before assuming the speakership in 2011—after years in Congress, ostensibly as a small-government, budget-slashing conservative and after a massive, Tea Party-driven takeover of Congress—Boehner was asked by NBC's Brian Williams to name a government program the nation could do without. "I don't think I have one off the top of my head," he replied lamely. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is similarly uncharismatic, too. Perhaps with different folks in charge, congressional Republicans would be throwing fewer hissy fits at their own leadership and passing more spending cuts.
The column is about Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Rauch's new book, Political Realism, and the argument that something is systemically wrong with Congress. Rauch, who I interviewed recently for Reason, argues that American democracy requires strong political parties to function properly and that various reforms championed by populists, progressives, and libertarians have effectively robbed party leadership of its ability to discipline and corral its members.
"What happens," asks Rauch, "when John Boehner tries to get the votes together to keep the government open, for example, or pass an immigration bill, which he would have liked to have done, and he can't get anyone to do it because all his guys are more afraid of the shadow PACs, the super PACs, and the outside money than they are of him?"
At The Daily Beast, I hold open the possibility that Rauch is mistaking a lack of individual leadership on the part of Boehner—a particularly uninspiring speaker who never articulated any clear set of principles or vision for the role of government—for an institutional problem.
As a friend of mine once put it, "Boehner is the type of guy who couldn't get laid in a monkey whorehouse with a handful of bananas."
With Boehner stepping down, we'll get to see soon if the GOP can't govern because of changes to the way candidates are funded and other developments or whether it was more the fault of a weak character such as John Boehner.
Reason interview with Rauch here: