House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is "a shrewd dude," and he's "playing the Democrats" like a fiddle in the standoff over the federal budget, says liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post. The "perverse genius" of Boehner's plan is that by demanding so many draconian cuts, the Republican caucus can expect to win at least some of them, and can just "sit back and smile" as the Democrats fight over which big concessions to give Republicans. It's not unlike Richard Nixon's "madman theory," a negotiating approach in which you win concessions by convincing your opponent that you "are capable of dangerously irrational actions." Here's an excerpt from Dionne Jr.'s argument:
This is the perverse genius of what the House Republicans are up to: Nobody really thinks that anything like their $57 billion in remaining proposed budget cuts can pass. It's unlikely that all of their own members are confident about all of the cuts they have voted for. But by taking such a large collection of programs hostage, the GOP can be quite certain to win many more fights than it would if each reduction were considered separately....
But here is where the Republicans' strategy works so brilliantly. Let's assume that neither the administration nor Senate Democrats — even the most timid among them — can allow the Head Start or Pell Grant cuts to go through. That still leaves a lot of other truly worthy programs to be defended. By heaping cut upon cut, Republicans get advocates of each particular cause fighting among themselves.
And with so many reductions on the table, voters who would actually oppose most of them if they knew the details don't get to hear much about any individual item because the media concentrate almost entirely on the partisan drama of the shutdown fight, not the particulars.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The U.S. Marines are developing laser weapons. Here's why.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Why the Supreme Court is allowing Texas to hold an unconstitutional election
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- How 1,000-year lifespans could remake the economy
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Ban PowerPoint!
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
- The uncomfortable truth in The Giving Tree
Subscribe to the Week