Boehner Uses Partisanship To Defeat Tactical Radicalism

by Jonathan Chait | July 27, 2011

The passage of John Boehner's debt ceiling bill appears to mark the crossing of a certain intellectual threshold for ultra-conservative House Republicans. Until very recently, they've been proclaiming that failing to raise the debt ceiling would not have important drawbacks, and/or that the 2010 elections afforded the Republican Party the right to impose its agenda without compromise. Now, suddenly, almost nobody is saying those things. Consider this quote from one right-winger:

“At the end of the day, it’s nowhere near what I want. It’s not even close to the numbers we want. It’s not perfect. But when we only control one-half of one-third of government, we can’t expect to be perfect,” said New York Rep. Michael Grimm

Or this:

One of those members, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R., Texas) told reporters that while he would like to “snap my fingers and change the world like ‘I Dream of Genie’ of Samantha on ‘Bewitched,’” Republicans “need to take what we can get.”

What explains the sudden onset of sweet reason? it seems that Boehner successfully appealed to the GOP's sense of partisanship. Selling a compromise with Obama as a necessary step toward the fulfillment of one's agenda in a power-sharing arrangement is hard. Selling an attack on Obama in those terms -- even one that does far less to reduce the size of government -- turns out to be pretty easy. Here's the Weekly Standard:

To vote against John Boehner on the House floor this week in the biggest showdown of the current Congress is to choose to vote with Nancy Pelosi. To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama.

Not very subtle! And here's right-wing frosh Allen West:

Boehner Plan is not a perfect bill. However, the fact Pelosi, Reid and Obama hate it doggone makes it perfect enough- where is their plan?

Now, for reasons I'll explain in a follow-up post, the Boehner plan is totally unsupportable. But once you've gotten the right to cross the philosophic threshold Boehner has, the next step is a lot easier. Boehner will lose plenty of conservatives if and when he cuts a final deal, but he'll gain Democrats. The key step was breaking down the right's default denialism and sense of entitlement to total victory. That's achieved.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/92760/boehner-uses-partisanship-defeat-tactical-radicalism