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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Boehner’s Choice: Country vs. Career

Whatever else can be said about Speaker John Boehner, he appears to be a man who loves his country. Indeed it’s hard to think of a politician who gets more emotional about the topic, as a Youtube scan will quickly verify.
Yet, now that the Speaker’s ‘Plan B’ has been nuked by his fellow Republicans, Boehner stands at a crossroads of decision: love of country vs. love of power. The choice he makes will likely define his character in public memory. If he makes the wrong choice, and chooses career over country, he could damage America’s economy dramatically. If he makes the right choice, country before career, he will provide another ‘profile in courage’ for future generations of elected officials.
Noam Scheiber outlines Boehner’s dilemma in his New Republic post “Plan B Dies, Prepare to Go Over the Cliff“:

…Once the House GOP deserted John Boehner last night, there were basically two options for striking a deal before January 1. Either Boehner passes a cliff-averting deal with a majority of House Republicans, or he passes one with a few dozen Republicans and a majority of House Democrats. Alas, I see neither of these things happening this year.

I’m going to hold on to the admittedly long-shot hope that Boehner will consider going with Scheiber’s second option. There is nothing in Boehner’s history that provides reason for this hope — you don’t get to be Speaker without a ruthless careerist mentality. He will almost certainly lose the speakership if he makes the courageous choice. But he might lose it even if he doesn’t, so unhinged are many of his Republican House colleagues, who are demanding an even more obstructionist position in the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Here’s how Scheiber explains the political implications of Boehner making the courageous choice:

That leaves option two: Boehner passes a bill with a rump group of Republicans and a majority of House Democrats. There are actually two ways this could happen. First, Boehner could essentially accept the offer on the table from Obama, perhaps with a tiny symbolic concession that lets him claim he squeezed more out of the president. Or Boehner could take up the bill the Senate has already passed, which extends the Bush tax cuts for families making under $250,000 per year and lets them expire above that.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to imagine Boehner embracing either of these measures and putting them to a vote, for the simple reason that passing either one over the opposition of his caucus would leave him incredibly vulnerable only days before he stands for re-election as Speaker. (That happens on January 3.) If Boehner wants to keep his job, this just isn’t something he’ll screw with. And for whatever reason–certainly not the quality of life it affords him–Boehner comes across as a man who wants to keep his job.

It’s also questionable that Boehner could get the needed “few dozen Republicans” Scheiber noted above. I won’t be surprised if Scheiber’s conclusion that Boehner will opt for the ‘Thelma and Louise’ pans out.
Yet, when all the strategic choices are a pretty big gamble, there is something to be said for going with the one that challenges with a bit of courage, vision and bipartisan spirit. Sure, it’s a tall order for a guy who hasn’t shown much of it thus far. But Boehner may realize that, on another level, his choice is between taking a chance on a genuinely bipartisan resolution of the crisis or continuing to be a herder of rigid ideologues who will never enact any legislation that benefits the American people.
I won’t be surprised if this possibility is dashed before the sun sets. But America is in urgent need of hope and healing. President Obama has done as much as he can. Now somebody else has to accept the challenge.

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