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Lance Simmens Headshot

Still Here and Waiting

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So today is judgment day, and the Speaker of the House probably wishes that the Mayans prognostications proved true, but we are still here and the real judgment day has come for Boehner and the Republican Party. It is deliciously tempting to launch a broadside at the tan man, but the stakes are actually too high for too many, the consequences too serious to slink to the level of the tea party snakes who worship obstruction and vow fealty to an ideology steeped in economic insanity, political vengeance, and self-hatred.

One cannot feel sorry for Mr. Boehner, because like an untold number of those in his party, they have decided that political power is both more seductive and more important than the perpetuation of a democratic system of governance that has steered this nation for the past two centuries. Addiction can rob one of their senses, sensibilities, sensitivity, and security, it can blind even the most loyal parent of their responsibilities to protect their children, and in the end it can kill them. At this point, the cancer spreading through the Republican Party body politic has rendered it deathly ill.

The Republicans have no one to blame but themselves, they have willingly engaged in a Faustian bargain with the likes of Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Karl Rove and are seemingly trapped in a web of spectacular deceit while the nation struggles to cope with an inability to solve some of the most destructive and intractable problems facing its citizens since the 1930s. Meanwhile, they have allowed an extremist wing of the party dictate a course and agenda that has made sensible governance an endangered species.

Compromise, contrary to the inane rhetoric of the cult of the new conservatism, is so delicately yet purposefully woven into the fabric of our institutions of governance, so essential to the infrastructure of democracy carefully laid out by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, so integral to the steadfastly incremental nature of change exemplified by our system of checks and balances and Federalism that the frontal assault directed against it almost rises to the level of treason. We may not like the pace of normalcy but we have discovered that we are essentially dysfunctional without it.

There is a way out of this quagmire and that is for Boehner to step up to the plate, summon whatever courage and compassion for public service that led him to choose elective office in the first place and piece together a coalition of support that is good for the country and the overwhelming majority of citizens who will suffer the adverse consequences of inaction. It carries great risks for him personally and professionally, but those risks will pale in comparison to the damage he and his party will suffer when faced with the wrath of an already angry and impatient electorate.

The fiscal cliff could be the advent of a new era of post-partisanship. From a strictly political perspective it is tempting to root for a total implosion on the part of the Republican Party. From the standpoint of practicality and compassion, however, the short-term damage is not worth the long-term benefits. The time to think about our long-term stability is long overdue. We have all suffered from partisan gridlock, and even politically sophisticated observers are tired of it.

My students learn that our public policy process is shaped by compromise, a messy legislative process analogous to sausage-making and incremental change. Yet, they are constantly bombarded by examples of political gridlock that deflates any hope and confidence in a functioning system of governance. It is this blatant disconnect that has sunk approval ratings in Congress to all-time lows.

So Mr. Speaker, the ball is in your court, the mantle of leadership rests squarely upon your shoulders, whether that burden will prove too heavy depends upon the skills you have learned over your years of service. I hope you are up to the task. But if you continue to allow irrationality to rule in your caucus you most certainly are destined to be remembered as a leader who could not even lead his own troops, let alone help fashion constructive remedies for a nation.