House Speaker John Boehner is feeling besieged, and I can’t say I blame him. When Nancy Pelosi handed him the speaker’s gavel two years ago, shortly after the success of the 2010 mid-terms, the prospects for the Republican Party looked bright. Now, by Boehner’s own admission, it is fighting for survival against a president who this week used his inaugural address to lay out an aggressive policy agenda.
As Boehner put it in a speech Tuesday at the Ripon Society in Wisconsin, Republicans face “an environment that is going to be far more hostile than anything that I think we’ve seen for a long, long time.”
“And given what we heard … about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans. So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party.
“And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal — to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”
There’s an odd tone of aggrievement in Boehner’s words, as if he can’t quite believe that Obama would actually dare to take advantage of Republican weakness, as if doing so were somehow unfair and unseemly. You hear that tone often from conservatives these days. (See Michael Gerson and Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks). It’s as if the universe has gone badly out of whack, and they can’t quite wrap their heads around it.
In fact, their dismay is almost poignant, coming after years of scorched-earth politics from Republicans who were determined to make Obama’s destruction their No. 1 goal.
In a sadly funny aside, Boehner told the Ripon Society about inviting his friend Lou Holtz, the conservative and eternally optimistic former football coach turned analyst, to Washington to give a motivational pep talk to Republican freshmen.
“And before he went over to talk to them, he came over to my office, and he was moaning and groaning. I said, ‘Lou, would you stop it? We’re Americans, we’ll figure this out!’ And I had to spend 15 minutes giving Lou Holtz a pep talk!”
The truth is, Obama lacks the ability or leverage to shove the Republican Party into the dustbin of history. He isn’t even the GOP’s primary enemy.
A political party is like a business or a football team or any other entity operating in a highly competitive field. It can, for a while, refuse to make small, month-to-month, year-to-year adaptations. But adaptation will be forced upon it nonetheless. If the internal culture is resistant to change, if those changes are not allowed to happen gradually, organically, then they will come all at once, in a veritable cascade.
That’s where the Grand Old Party stands today. Obama may serve as a convenient villain, but if Republicans focus on him as the cause of their woes, they focus on the wrong thing. The truth is that most of the party’s problems are of its own making.
If Obama is trying to marginalize you as extremist, stop proving him right. If minority voters and female voters look at you with suspicion, stop giving them confirmation of their fears. If young people perceive you as being as out of date as a rotary-dial phone, stop trying to re-create the 1950s.
Otherwise, the dustbin awaits ….
– Jay Bookman