Recently, Speaker of the House John Boehner has made the decision to willingly vacate his post in Congress, a decision that few have made in the history of the position. This decision may come as a surprise to some, but a look at the last few years of Congressional leadership leaves little question as to why.
The far-right’s ideological brittleness continues to fracture the Republican party and impede any true progress at the federal level. Boehner began his tenure as Speaker of the House with the resounding Republican Congressional victory in 2010. Conservative gains at that time can be largely attributed to the Tea Party movement, which gave a valuable vitality to the election cycle. For establishment Republicans though, the cure soon became the disease, as the far-right movement battled the party establishment.
Boehner’s exit is only one more act in the political drama that has unfolded in Republican Party in recent years. The Tea Party movement has created a populist base that pushes out the long-standing members perceived as too liberal or rather not sufficiently anti-Obama. Although the Republicans have had success in Congress halting some of Obama’s legislation, controversial bills have still been enacted such as the Affordable Care Act. With this fail- ure, the ideological base of the conservative movement has made heads roll, exemplified by former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s ousting by Tea Party challenger David Brat in 2014.
The hardliners in the Republican Party are committing a grave mistake with their intra-party purging; they have created an environment in which pure ideology has trumped pragmatism. Rather than actual discourse on bipartisan issues such as health care and immigration reform, the Republican Party has resorted to an anti-Obama platform of obstruction and gridlock. The Republican-dominated Congress has used the threat of government shutdown in an attempt to get Democrats to repeal Obamacare at the behest of such purists.
The ultimate problem with plans like these
is that they stand virtually no chance of success. Not only ineffective, these types of actions have real consequences. It’s not only the Washington oligarchs, policy wonks and Obama that pay in the case of a shutdown, the 2.1 million federal employees suffer as well. Some of these employees include vital services such as the post office, Department of Justice and the military.
It’s hard for Republicans to be pragmatic though, when they are labelled Obama allies for simply negotiating with the White House. Party notables such as Boehner, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have dealt with uncommonly competitive primaries in their home districts.
These establishment Republicans have done what politicians have done since the beginning of American politics: cross the aisle and work with the other side. It’s hard to be in the Senate as long as Hatch and not made compromises. That’s what most Americans want after all. Despite recent trends, we are actually not living in the most polarized of political cultures in U.S. history, (consider the presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams for a good example). Polarization ebbs and flows over time and a critical point may have been reached. Congressional approval ratings, which remain at extremely low levels, show that citizens are fed up. Maybe change is on the way.
This potential change did not arrive soon enough to save Boehner. The Tea Party faction still wields tremendous power in the Republican party and indeed American poli- tics as a whole.
All of this is not to say that the Democrats have never engaged in political posturing or are completely devoid of blame. But right now, Republicans must end the witch hunt within their own party. Stop punishing the only thing that makes the American political system work: compromise.