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Why the House leadership is weak

May 30, 2013, at 8:18 PM

Michele Bachmann, the retiring five-term member of Congress from Minnesota, was a rather shameless self-promoter at best and a demagogue at worst. But she was very, very good at one thing: She knew how to stick it to Obama. She understood better than most of her conference that her voting base would reward her for saying "no" at every opportunity, for following Calvin Coolidge's dictum that the first job of a legislator is not to pass good legislation, it's to stop bad legislation.

I don't know why she's leaving, but it ain't because she couldn't raise the money: She'd already taken in $10 million, much of it in small donations. She did not need help from leadership PACs, and she did not require pork from her colleagues on other committees, because pork, as we once knew it, is not really distributed the way it used to be. All members have is their public profiles, especially if they're in the opposition. What can they stop? How quickly can they stop it?

House Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants want to pass legislation. Their members do not. And the balance of power lies with the members, with people like Bachmann who can attract a camera and a microphone faster than a Kardashian at NBC Universal. There is more political currency in fighting against the leadership than there is in being a good soldier. House leaders have lost all leverage over members. Even Tom DeLay would be hard-pressed to put the squeeze to recalcitrant legislators these days because Republican money comes from different sources. There's enough of it out there that isn't controlled by the big lobby interests in DC.

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