Sunday, October 06, 2013

Q: What Is The Best Description Of Captain Orange (House Speaker John Boner [R-OH])? A: An Orange-Colored Hack!

Thanks to George Packer, the image of the House Speaker — Captain Orange — has become clear. The worthless subitch isn't a Dumbo. He isn't even a Moron (the new term for Teabagger). He's a sleazy, empty-suit hack. He has allowed a relative handful of Morons to take over the asylum. The POTUS 44 needs to call out this empty suit. John Boner makes Newtron look like a rocket scientist. The non-Moron Dumbos should join with the Donkeys and declare a new election for Speaker of the House. Goodbye, Captain Orange. Don't let the door of the House Chamber hit you in the butt on your way back to Ohio's 8th District as Representative Orange. If this is (fair & balanced) contempt for political cowardice, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Darkness In Washington
By George Packer

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Ryan Lizza’s excellent Daily Comment last week explained the lay of the American political landscape in the clearest possible terms, backed up by numbers: a faction of congressional Republicans, many, if not most, in the South, representing ideologically extreme, heavily white districts that were drawn by Republican-controlled state legislatures after the 2010 elections so as to keep those seats Republican in perpetuum, have their party in a chokehold—and with it, at the moment, the federal government. Eighty House members, Lizza wrote, barely a third of the Republican caucus, most of them new to Congress, forced Speaker John Boehner to reverse his public position and refuse to fund the government after September 30th unless Democrats agreed to gut the Affordable Care Act.

One question Lizza didn’t raise is why Boehner allowed himself to be pushed onto a course that’s so self-destructive—not just for the country but for his party—that a conservative pundit called the House rebels “the suicide caucus.” Maybe Boehner is afraid that a Tea Party revolt could upend his speakership, so he’s rendered it empty in order to hang onto it. Maybe he’s spooked by the continuing power on the right of Fox News and talk radio. Maybe he knows that the key to Republican money lies less with Wall Street or K Street than with far-right organizations like the ones that attended Ted Cruz’s fundraising dinner while he held the Senate floor (with a series of relievers) for twenty-one hours.

These all seem like plausible explanations because they’re self-interested ones, and Washington, as craven, shameless, and hypocritical as it may be, is at least supposed to have the virtue of being practical. I actually think that self-interest is overrated as an all-purpose guide to political motive. It leaves out something at least as powerful and immovable—individual psychology. Too many talented and supremely calculating politicians, including Nixon and Clinton, have destroyed their careers, or come close, by acting in ways that were obviously against their own interests.

Boehner is out of their league—a hack who rose to the top by being serviceable to a party that’s grown more and more extreme during his twenty-two years in Congress. At the moment of truth last week, Boehner attached himself to the suicide caucus. Perhaps he did it for lack of a will to do otherwise. Perhaps the years of ambition and accommodation in a party that’s imprisoned by its own ideology had emptied Boehner out to the point where the thing he gave up as the price of leadership was his own ability to say no. Perhaps being the Republican leader had begun to rot him from the inside.

In Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1941), based on the Soviet purges of the thirties, the old Bolshevik Rubashov is arrested and interrogated by younger, more hardline, more brutal party members. After months in prison, Rubashov confesses to crimes against the revolution—crimes that he never committed. Why? George Orwell, in his essay on Koestler, provides the answer, and it isn’t the self-interested one, that is, to stop the torture:

Rubashov ultimately confesses because he cannot find in his own mind any reason for not doing so. Justice and objective truth have long ceased to have any meaning for him. For decades he has been simply the creature of the Party, and what the Party now demands is that he shall confess to non-existent crimes…What is there, what code, what loyalty, what notion of good and evil, for the sake of which he can defy the Party and endure further torment? He is not only alone, he is also hollow.

The last time the government shut down was over the Christmas holidays in 1995. Newt Gingrich was in Boehner’s position then, but, unlike Boehner, Gingrich was the chief revolutionary, a leader who was actually leading. Gingrich had spent his whole career accumulating power and giving his fellow Republicans the tools—many of them simply words—to undermine the Democratic-controlled institutions of government in Washington. He was willing to destroy the House in order to take it. But when he went toe to toe with Bill Clinton over the shutdown (it had to do with Medicare spending), Gingrich proved capable of compromise. The two men were constantly on the phone. In The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry That Defined a Generation (2008), Steven M. Gillon quotes Clinton’s aide Bruce Reed: “Even though we were in the midst of bitterly divided government, both Clinton and Gingrich saw that it was in their interests, and to a larger degree, in their parties’ interests, to work together.”

That was a generation ago. The Gingrich Revolution turned out to be a prelude to what the Republican Party has become. In the Senate, the moderating influence of Bob Dole has been replaced by the cynical partisanship of Mitch McConnell, while Jesse Helms looks pretty reasonable next to Ted Cruz. Gingrich was a far more volatile and aggressive individual than Boehner, but the institutional norms of self-restraint, and perhaps even self-interest, have broken down under the pressure of an increasingly abnormal Republican Party. In this atmosphere, a hack can be more dangerous than a revolutionary. Ω

[After graduating from Yale, George Packer served in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. Packer has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since May 2003. His most recent books include The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (2005), Betrayed (2009), and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013).]

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