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Is John Boehner actually an American hero?
The House Speaker had a bleak December and a blah two years. But it could have been so much worse...
 
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): Congressional bomb defuser?
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): Congressional bomb defuser? Pete Marovich/ZUMA Press/Corbis

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn't anyone's idea of a latter-day LBJ or Sam Rayburn — a super-legislator who twists arms, swaps pork for votes, and most of all, gets stuff done. But despite his rough December and New Year's — in which his own caucus humiliated him by rejecting his fiscal cliff "Plan B," he was cut out of negotiations before having to join Democrats to pass a Senate-brokered bill, survived an incompetent coup attempt, and was trash-talked on live TV by Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) — "Boehner has done his country a more important service over the last two years than almost any other politician in Washington," says Ross Douthat in The New York Times

That service hasn't been the achievement of a grand bargain with the White House, which he has at times assiduously sought. Nor has it been the sweeping triumph over liberalism that certain right-wing activists expect him to somehow gain. Rather, it's been a kind of disaster management — a sequence of bomb-defusal operations that have prevented our dysfunctional government from tipping into outright crisis.... The fact that all these crises have been resolved at the 11th hour, amid persistent brinkmanship and repeated near-death moments for his speakership, isn't a sign that he's a failure. Instead, given the correlation of forces he's dealing with, this is what success looks like. (For a glimpse of the alternative, just imagine rerunning the last two years with Newt Gingrich in the speaker's chair.) [The New York Times]

The idea of Boehner as a "downright American hero" is a little hard to swallow, says Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller. If averting catastrophe now qualifies for heroism, boy, "talk about grade inflation." There are, in fact, two ways Boehner could try to herd the cats of his GOP caucus. And since he can't really use the first option — he doesn't have the power to "essentially bribe or blackmail" his members — "the only arrow left in the quiver is to be a transformational leader — to actually inspire your team to follow you." That's isn't something Boehner seems capable of. So "'hero' just seems to me to be a tad too strong, all things considered." Maybe "victim" or "hostage" would be more apt.

Give Boehner a break, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. He has had to grapple with more ideologically inflexible members who are loyal to themselves or their big donors rather than House leadership, backbenchers who have their own media-driven power bases, and political disincentives to compromise with Democrats. Indeed, Boehner has faced a series of "monumental challenges with as little power over his House majority as any speaker in modern memory." 

Meh, "I expect nothing from the GOP," says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. "It's lost and leaderless." But if we're talking about the need for heroism, "I expect a lot from Obama, who knows what needs to be done" but focused his fiscal cliff fix entirely on raising taxes for the wealthy. "I expect him to stop acting as a party leader and start acting like the president of the whole country." That means not giving up on that grand bargain, and expending political capital to achieve it, with or without Boehner's help. 

He'll have to change the polls, not just read the polls. He will have to take on his own base and the GOP's. There are many successful Americans who got their wealth the old-fashioned way — by risk-taking, going into debt to start a business or pursue a dream. It's time for the president to do some risk-taking — to stop just hammering the wealthy, which is so easy, and to start selling the country on a strategy to multiply them. We need to tax more millionaires, but we also need more millionaires and middle classes to tax. The president was elected to grow our national pie, not just re-divide it. [The New York Times]

 

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