Nothing so became U.S. Rep. John Boehner's tenure as speaker of the House as his manner of leaving it. Subjectively speaking, he has never appeared to believe very much of the nonsense his position required him to utter. An old school politician who literally grew up working in the family bar, his conservatism is of the traditional Midwestern kind — more Bob Dole, say, than Ted Cruz.
More process and negotiation, that is, than ideological certitude and visionary schemes to purge the nation of sin. To be blunt about it, very few Roman Catholics, and none who grew up in a bar, could ever believe such a thing possible. Unafraid to let his emotions show as Pope Francis urged lawmakers to compromise for the common good, he may in that moment have recognized his own complete failure.
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Boehner expressed his frustration in theological terms. Asked if the fundamentalist-dominated tea party faction that views him as a sellout to President Obama was unrealistic, he almost shouted.
"Absolutely they're unrealistic!" he said. "But the Bible says beware of false prophets. And there are people out there spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean, this whole idea that we were going to shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013, this plan never had chance.
"But over the course of the August recess in 2013, and the course of September," Boehner added, "a lot of my Republican colleagues who knew it was a fool's errand, really they were getting all this pressure from home to do this. And so we have got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town, who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they ... KNOW are never going to happen."
No, and shutting the government down in 2015 to get rid of Planned Parenthood has even less chance of accomplishing anything other than pointless melodrama, TV face time for the aforementioned Sen. Cruz, and the near-certain election of a Democratic president.
The late Robert F. Kennedy once told a friend of mine that no particular genius was required to succeed in politics, but you do have to be able to count. It's because Boehner understands that, yet seemingly lacked the intestinal fortitude to abandon the so-called "Hastert Rule" that his speakership came to such a sad end.
What with Hastert nearing an ignominious denouement of his own — the former speaker's lawyers are reportedly negotiating a guilty plea involving hush money paid to a young man he'd sexually molested as a high school coach — you'd think Republicans would want to avoid the phrase, if not the practice.
Refusing to let the House to vote on any bill not supported by a majority of Republicans not only placed party above country, it also permitted tea party hotheads to paralyze the government. In consequence, the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin points out, a 2013 immigration reform bill favored by GOP leadership that passed 62-38 in the Senate never came to a vote in the House.
Supported by such Republican luminaries as Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio, the bill would clearly have passed had Boehner allowed a vote — good for the nation, good for the Republican Party. Alas, to keep his job, Boehner caved to tea party nativists. In consequence, Toobin writes, "he suffered the fate of all those who give in to bullies; he was bullied some more."
This year it was the highway bill, another popular, badly needed, job-intensive piece of legislation also opposed by the tea party. The tyranny of the minority, you might call it. If they had their way, we'd all have to buy tractors and bush-hog our own roads.
Instead, Boehner permitted the innumerate faction something like 60 votes to repeal Obamacare — each as futile and pointless as the last and the very definition of "things they know are never going to happen."
Another consequence of Boehner's failure, it should be said, is the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the blowhard billionaire who appears to have convinced millions of voters who failed to master eighth-grade civics that he can solve the nation's toughest problems by yelling at them.
In stepping down, Boehner secured the agreement of his GOP antagonists to vote for a "clean" continuing resolution keeping the government funded through mid-December with no demands to defund Planned Parenthood — the latest publicity stunt of the extreme right. After that, all bets are off.
"November and December are going to be like Dante's 'Inferno' around here," New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. told the New York Times.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
A new Quinnipiac poll shows that Republican voters oppose shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood by 56-36 percent. Americans overall oppose the idea by 69-23 percent.
All that's needed is a speaker strong enough to put country above party.