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Mr. Boehner’s Critics

As explained by both Jonathan and our former COMMENTARY colleague Jennifer Rubin, Speaker John Boehner, for entirely understandable reasons–he held no cards–declared he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached. (It passed 221-201.)  Predictably, some conservative groups blasted Mr. Boehner for capitulation and for being unprincipled. 

“Leadership needs to go – they need to be completely changed,” Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said. “They have no spine to fight for anything.” She added that her group would focus on making sure GOP leaders are defeated in the 2014 elections, and she’s not alone. The Senate Conservatives Fund is demanding he be replaced. So are other groups.

So some of the same people who recommended the GOP embrace the strategy that produced the government shutdown were insisting that House Republicans should have forced a showdown on raising the debt ceiling. One political disaster in a half year apparently isn’t enough. Why not two?

It is a curious thing, those who insist on fighting losing battles, on large stages, based on wholly unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. For some politicians seeking to curry favor with some part of the GOP base, the motivations may be ambition and self-interest. But there are others who seem to believe going down in flames is a high calling and a purifying ritual. Every tactical difference is framed as an apocalyptic struggle. The choice is liberty or tyranny. You’re a “constitutional conservative” or a statist. It’s the American Revolution all over again. You, too, can be Patrick Henry.

Now John Boehner is hardly an inspiring, let alone a perfect, political figure. He hardly sets conservative hearts aflutter. If there are those on the right who think another person should be speaker of the House, fine; they’re free to make their case and coalesce behind a challenger. But this should be said as well: Mr. Boehner’s job is more challenging than fulminating from deep in the bowels of a hidden bunker for three hours every weeknight. And whatever his limitations, Mr. Boehner has the virtue of being a serious adult who isn’t intemperate, who’s not in a constant state of agitation, and who hasn’t lost touch with political reality. Which is more than can be said about some of his critics.


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