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Dr. Jim Taylor Headshot

John Boehner's Last Hurrah

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Did you see the House Minority leader John Boehner's sometimes hysterical rant on the House floor before the vote on the health-care reform bill? When I put on the Anger-Vision glasses I got out of the cereal box this morning, I could see Boehner's eyes flaring a bright red, fire singing his well-coifed hair, smoke coming off the top of his head, lightning bolts emanating from his ears, and flames shooting from his mouth and nose. I half expected to see his head do a 360-degree swivel a la the Exorcist. I can understand his panic. Republicans were about to experience their worst legislative defeat in half a century. My question is whether he was engaging in an Oscar-level theatrics to appease his base or did he really believe what he was saying.

Look, I understand that the health-care reform bill is controversial, even among Democrats; it is not a perfect piece of legislation. The use of reconciliation to get the bill passed isn't exactly going to encourage cross-party lunch dates (though, given its history, it was the height of hypocrisy for the Republicans to vilify its use). And I actually love vigorous debate between people of opposing views because positions can be clarified, new perspectives can be learned, and consensus can be reached. But for this debate process to work, it must be respectful, focused on the issues, and grounded in the facts.

But not only did Boehner cross the line, he smashed it with a sledgehammer. Boehner's theatrics put on display the very worst of what politics has become. He started out so calm and thoughtful seemingly on the high road. But it turned ugly quickly with his "Hell No!" declarations, misinformation, party attacks, expressing opinions as fact, and predictions of Armageddon. To be fair, were there Democrats who got on their high horses attempting to get into the Oscar race as well? Sure, passions were as hot as magma on the floor of the House before the vote.

Regardless, Boehner knows that his days as the Minority Leader are numbered. He was the point man (along with Senator Mitch McConnell) for stopping this legislation and he failed. His name will be inextricably linked to the greatest Republican Congressional defeat since the enactment of Medicare. The Republicans have to blame somebody and, because honest self-reflection doesn't seem to be in their DNA, Boehner will likely be forced to fall on his sword for the sake of the team.

There's already talk about repeal, but that will never happen even if the GOP wins big in November. Can anyone in good conscience ever again allow insurance companies to deny people coverage or cancel their policies or raise rates far above inflation? Ain't gonna happen! And, of course, President Obama would never sign such a bill.

I know what many conservatives will say to give this legislation a positive spin. The setback will actually be to their advantage by mobilizing their base for the midterm elections in November. Sure, those who reside in Palinland of the Grand Old Party are mad as hell, as evidenced by their offensive racial and sexual epithets hurled at Democratic Congressmen and their Pinocchio-like distortions of the bill's impact on America. At the same time, bases don't win elections, but they sure can lose them. The vitriol expressed by the fringe is only going to alienate those center-right Republicans who find those on the far right to be, well, too far to the right. And it is those centrist Republicans (and Democrats) who decide elections.

Here's my prediction. Now that the legislation has passed (and assuming it passes in the Senate), the Republicans will be demoralized. Just like after Obama's victory, there will be finger pointing and, as I noted above, sacrifices will have to be made to the all-mighty gods of the Right. But the GOP will once again not learn from its mistakes and continue its slide to the right simply because the base, however small and misinformed they are, is the most vocal and they're the ones who get those in Congress through the primaries.

In the mean time, President Obama and the Democrats will regain control of the political narrative and use it as a cudgel against the Republicans over the months leading up to the midterm elections. They will be able to reshape perceptions of the bill to their advantage and Americans will come to embrace it for the positive change that it is.

The Dems may not be able to prevent the traditional midterm loss of seats in Congress, but it will be far fewer than many predict. Why? Because, at the very least, the Democrats have actually been trying to do things to help the American people (not that they are doing a bang-up job of it) and, however flawed the Dems are, they continue to be the party of Hope in America. The Republicans, in contrast, are 0-for-decades in the new-idea department, traffic mostly in fear mongering, and continue to solidify their image as the party of Rope-a-Dope Nope.

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