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Thursday, 10 January 2013 00:00

Is John Boehner the Canary in the Republican Coal Mine?

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Yes, the House Majority leader joined House Democrats to avert narrowly the fiscal cliff with 85 Republican votes. But an unprecedented 151 — nearly two out of three Congressional Republicans — voted against him. And then, the Republican caucus successfully pressured him to postpone a vote on helping victims of Frankenstorm Sandy.

After Katrina, it took Congress only 10 days to vote for relief for New Orleans and the Gulf states. After Sandy, it took well over 60 days for Congress to pass any relief – a meager $10 billion to bolster a nearly bankrupt flood insurance program. The bulk of reconstruction aid — about $50 billion more to rebuild roads and electrical utilities, bridges and pipelines –— is, incredibly, still on hold. Without that infrastructure foundation – without serviceable roads and street lights and gas lines - any private rebuilding efforts are catch as catch can.

Even so, “conservative” House Republicans, grousing about Boehner’s allegedly free spending ways, barely voted to reelect him for a second term. All this infighting evokes former House leader Newt Gingrich before his fall. It also opens the question of the kind of coalition the Republicans can pull together to remain a major political party.

Having adopted narrow minded policies which scare off minorities – from Latinos to gays to Asian-Americans to women – Republicans are now giving the shaft to one of their last major constituencies: white middle class folk. So, here is a news bulletin to Congressional Republicans. Staten Island and the Rockaways, among the hardest hit parts of New York City, are as Republican as you can get here. They are splotches of red in a sea of blue. And they are who Republicans are most royally screwing over.

Likewise, New Jerseyans voted in a Republican governor – Chris Christie. And this state, at the hurricane’s epicenter, is also getting screwed — especially the barrier islands populated largely by white, middle class Republicans.

Thus, the Republican base has married hatred of minorities with regional hatred. Blue states are “suspect” in their eyes, while they champion largesse to “good old boy” states. How else to explain, for one, Mississippi Republican Congressman Steven Palazzo, who repeatedly calls for expediting Katrina relief efforts to his state – while voting against federal flood insurance relief to the northeast? In the latter vote, he was one of 67 Republicans professing budgetary concerns.

So who does the Republican party actually represent? Is it just the narrow minded, the religious right, and moguls opposed to environmental regulations meant to save the planet? And even if this strange coalition can raise more campaign money than can Democrats, how does this additional money translate into votes?

The Republican party is on such a self-destruct course that even strongholds like Staten Island and the Rockaways will no longer remain in their midst. The elephant John Boehner is riding is dying under him — not because the Democrats are so fiendishly clever, but because its legs are increasingly mired in extremist quicksand, blocking forward progress. Much of this quicksand comes from the primary process, which pulls candidates to the extremes, as I wrote here. The rest comes from gerrymandered districts, which guarantee the local majority party an uncontested lock over who represents them.

More precisely, five sixths of Republican Congressional representatives got elected by 55% or more of voters in 2012. Only one sixth of Congressional Republicans represent districts who could face meaningful Democratic challengers. The concern of the vast majority of Republicans in the “safe” districts, then, is to protect their right flank against a primary challenger, not to protect themselves from a Democrat.

Thus, it is the 85 Republican representatives who voted to avoid the fiscal cliff, including Boehner, who face the stiffer reelection challenge, not the 151 effectively voted to take us over the fiscal cliff. And as the Republican party lurches further and further to the right – next stop, the debt ceiling fight — it is only time before it veers off the political highway altogether. True, there are countervailing forces – Republican “establishment” leaders in shock over their party’s poor November showings and vowing to reinforce moderates. It is on these leaders that the fate of John Boehner and “moderate” Republicans hangs.

Should Boehner be forced out of the leadership, however, it will be the canary in the coal mine. It will be the elephant drowning in quicksand of its own making. And in our intensely interconnected world, the rest of us will either have to find a way to politically circumvent them — or get taken down with them.

By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist

*Photo Credit: Michelle Tribe

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