- - Monday, September 28, 2015


Intramural Republican fights often resemble high school student-body elections, or the way the ladies conduct “roasts” of each other. The point of a roast is to sling witty insults just this side of bad taste. They’re usually good fun, even for the roastee. When the ladies do it the “roasts” usually become gentle and lady-like toasts. Some things don’t translate.

John Boehner’s surprise retirement has set off not so much a scramble for a roast, but to settle on someone who will take the job. The scramble will be for the jobs just below the speakership, where the flame is a little warmer. The job of the Republican caucus will be to settle on skill, belief and courage to get the job done right.

Mr. Boehner did a tough job about as well as could be expected under the circumstances (faint praise in Washington is sometimes very faint indeed), but he often regarded voters who sent him to Washington, and his colleagues, as a pain to be endured. He was an able insider, and this is not the season of the insider.

The next speaker should share the concerns of those who gave the Republicans the majority, and not depend on the Democratic losers. He should be a conservative dedicated to the change voters sought, and be willing to treat those on whom the Republican majority owes its job as intelligent adults who will support reasonable, long-term plans if they are explained well. He or she must, in short, explain what is to be accomplished, and not just to members behind closed doors. Voters are clearly tired of being treated as people who can’t understand the intricacies of how Washington works. They understand very well how Washington doesn’t work.

The man (or woman) who replaces Mr. Boehner can’t be merely a reflection of tensions within the not-so-Grand Old Party, but a leader who can energize his (or her) colleagues in behalf of the people in Alabama, Montana and New Mexico and places between who sent them here, who (mostly) don’t expect overnight miracles, but who do demand hard work.

“Institutional” leaders dismiss symbolic votes as deepening partisan division and accomplishing little, but real leaders know that voters will forgive failure but not surrender. Effective legislative leadership involves not just getting along by going along, but weaving together the possible with symbolic votes that demonstrate problems that must be overcome to “move forward” (the fashionable cliche is “going forward”).

Good legislation that makes it to the president’s desk and pen either becomes law or suffers a veto, and when the president is revealed to be the obstacle to the people’s will he must be identified as such. Sometimes you can win by losing because the fight itself tells the tale. Such leaders as George Mitchell, a Democrat, and Bob Dole, a Republican, demonstrated that in the past. They advanced their partisan interests with neither closing the government nor kowtowing to a president waving his veto pen like a bloody scimitar.

The man (or woman) who succeeds John Boehner must be neither the kamikaze pilot nor the blowhard who equates bombast with progress, but a leader who understands that the great unwashed out there beyond the Beltway expect a speaker who knows when to hold ‘em and knows when to fold ‘em, but does not flinch when it’s time to hold ‘em. It’s a difficult assignment, but no one is elected to come to Washington to dance the cakewalk. The man (or woman) who does the job well will find that voters are eager to rally to their cause.

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