- - Wednesday, October 23, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

John Boehner has been the speaker of the House of Representatives since January 2011. He’s had the unenviable task of trying to keep the Republicans focused on political and economic issues. This has led to bickering with Tea Party-backed candidates, intra-party revolts, requiring him to put on a brave face in spite of recent political defeats.

Mr. Boehner has likely done the best he could to weather this political storm. He has tried, in the words of Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Sabrina Eaton, to have “perfected the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.” Alas, attempting to be all things to all people is difficult in the best of times — and nearly impossible in the worst of times.

Yet, with all due respect to the House speaker, his public image has been badly tarnished. It’s mostly been by his own doing.

For example, consider Mr. Boehner’s “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl on Dec. 13, 2010. He inexplicably started crying during some innocuous discussions that included his childhood in blue-collar Ohio.

If this had been an isolated incident, fine, but it wasn’t. There have been other instances of blubbering in public. The list includes the Rosa Parks Capitol statue dedication, a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for legendary golfer Arnold Palmer and a similar ceremony for 19th-century painter Constantino Brumidi.

Leaving aside the emotional, public displays of waterworks, Mr. Boehner’s political leadership has repeatedly come into question. His fumbling with last year’s fiscal cliff crisis and the remarkably similar communication problems during the 16-day government shutdown are clear evidence of his management shortcomings.

Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar at the Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation, wrote in the Dec. 31, 2012, issue of Forbes that Mr. Boehner was indeed “dealt a lousy hand in the fiscal cliff negotiations.” That being said, “it’s also fair to say he played that bad hand badly. Very badly.”

How so? As Mr. Matthews wrote, the Republicans “never identified some of the most egregious examples that would help win the public to their side. That’s Boehner’s fault. He needed the Republican Conference pressing one message: Before Washington raises taxes on anyone, it needs to cut wasteful spending — and then provide specific examples.”

Exactly. While it may sound like a simplistic position to take, it would have been a very effective counter against the tax-and-spend Democrats. The GOP could have taken the role as the true champions of fiscal prudence, government transparency and economic liberty. In a world of 30-second sound bites needed to captivate radio and TV audiences, this could have been the defining moment of Mr. Bohener’s political career.

Unfortunately, the House Speaker didn’t do this. He even bungled the shutdown in much the same manner as the fiscal cliff crisis. Instead of focusing on the litany of President Obama’s economic missteps and mishaps, Mr. Boehner spent most of his time and energy on Obamacare.

There’s no doubt Obamacare is a trillion-dollar bureaucratic nightmare waiting to happen. The costs differ from state to state, which will hurt the wallets of many families. Certain options, such as choosing your own doctor, aren’t included in Mr. Obama’s dream of socialized health care. The website’s technical glitches have already cost taxpayers more than three times the original estimate — and it’s only been operational for a few weeks.

Mr. Boehner’s decision to focus almost solely on Obamacare (even if the idea reportedly came from Tea Party activists) was a bad one. The president wasn’t going to put his plan on the bargaining table — or even consider a minor tweak or two. Hence, the Republicans should have included Obamacare as one of the major reasons why the White House’s economic plan has been a mess. The American people would have more readily accepted this particular argument.

Let’s be frank. Various polls show the GOP has been blamed for the shutdown more than either the Democrats or Mr. Obama. The party is currently engaged in a historically critical period of reflection, reform and revitalization. There’s a great deal of political damage that needs to be rectified before the 2014 midterm elections.

Mr. Boehner, who has dropped the political ball far too many times, has to accept his share of the blame. A new House speaker with a positive, conservative vision — and a few less hankies in his pocket — needs to take charge.

For the good of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, it’s time for Mr. Boehner to step down.

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