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Sunday, September 27, 2015
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Another one of the “not entirely crazy” Republican leaders has bitten the dust. I’m talking about House Speaker John Boehner, who on Friday announced that he was giving up his Speakership position and resigning his seat as a Congressman from Ohio in about a month. Boehner is 65 years old (will be 66 in November), and was first elected to the House in 1990. He beat a Republican incumbent named Buz Lukens in a primary and then defeating the Democrat candidate by a 60-40 margin. (“Buz” . . . now there’s a real middle-American name! Although lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin hails from the same part of metropolitan New Jersey where I am based. I can’t say that I know of any other Buz[z]’s from this neck of the woods.)

Since then, Boehner has maintained a safe seat, beating his Democratic alternative by margins close to 70-30 every two years. Boehner’s biggest nightmare of course is from within his own party. He could well face a strong primary challenge in 2016; the defeat of seven-term Republican Congressman Eric Cantor last year to a Tea Party primary candidate casts a dark shadow on Boehner’s prospects (recall that Cantor was the House Majority Leader). So, Boehner is getting out while the getting is good.

I never thought much of Boehner. He appeared to dead set on blocking President Obama at every turn, with no regard for the merits. Whenever Obama took action, you could depend on seeing or hearing Boehner on the news that night criticizing whatever was ordered (sometimes in an annoying, whiny fashion). And yet . . . all of that just wasn’t good enough for the “conservative base” of the GOP. They expected that Boehner would get the House moving on a series of conservative initiatives including the outright repeal of Obamacare, revision of the tax code around a flat rate tax, a Mexican border lock-down, repeal of endangered species laws, reversal of the EPA’s carbon emission standards for power plants, etc. They wanted to see action, even though there was no chance of over-riding a Presidential veto.

Looking back now, it seems that for all of the obnoxious things that he said about Obama and the Democrats, Boehner was actually focusing on bi-partisan legislation that had a real shot at getting past the President’s desk. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of bills that qualify for that these days, so it didn’t seem like Boehner got much done. I think that he mostly wanted to limit the damage that the Tea Party radicals could do (while also limiting what Obama could do, e.g. blocking Obama’s planned carbon cap-and-trade initiative to combat global warming). So maybe Boehner wasn’t a totally bad guy after all. As a practicing Roman Catholic, his decision to resign right after the Pope addressed Congress and called for sacrifice for the good of the people seems somewhat noble. He said that in his remaining time, he would do what he could to avoid a government shutdown and get a spending bill passed without drawing blood from Planned Parenthood. As a Catholic, I suppose that he would not a big fan of PP’s abortion services. But the federal funds in question support a range of very worthy health care outreaches that have nothing to do with abortion (and arguably help to reduce abortions through proper use of contraception).

Well, Boehner is not exactly Thomas More (Boehner will not have his head chopped off, not literally anyway); but if you have to go, you might as well try to do some good on your way out, however limited.

As to the Republicans — the anti-Boehner conservative faction is already floating several “pure blood” candidates for the Speaker position. So the GOP majority in the House is probably going to demand a more aggressive stance, something that Boehner did not think was a good idea and tried to keep a lid on. I like to read historical parallels to recent events, and so I tried to come up with an episode from the past that in some way mimics the current GOP situation in the House. The one incident that came to mind was from the final years of the American Civil War, something that the Confederacy had done in its final months.

In the Summer of 1864, General William T. Sherman was slowly advancing the US Army of the Cumberland and Army of the Ohio (the north named its forces after rivers) southward out of Tennessee, bound for Atlanta. Confederate General Joseph Johnston led the Army of the Tennessee in trying to stop Sherman. Johnston definitely did slow Sherman down and inflicted a lot of casualties, but Sherman’s forces continued to slowly advance toward the main city of the southeast.

By 1864, the Union was in full war mode, and was shipping plenty of supplies and raw recruits to the front to replace all of the soldiers and property items lost in the grinding battles. The Confederacy though was starting to run on the fumes due to Union military advances and the ocean blockade. As such, Johnston knew that he had to be careful with his Army, as both human and material replacements were getting more and more scarce. Thus Johnston fought carefully, trying to preserve his own army and at the same time wear Sherman down to the point where a credible stand could be made against the Union at the gates of Atlanta. If Sherman could be delayed to November, perhaps the winter rains and cold weather would result in a stalemate (similar to what happened to Grant at Petersburg), buying Johnston the winter and early spring months to strengthen his forces.

Unfortunately, Jefferson Davis and the high Confederate command in Richmond didn’t appreciate Johnston’s pragmatism. So, in July, Davis replaced Johnston with General John Bell Hood, a younger (by 24 years) and more aggressive soldier who was expected to make hell for Sherman and hopefully send his armies packing for Kentucky and Ohio. A series of vicious battles ensued, including Peachtree Creek and Ezra Church. The Union forces took a lot of casualties, but not enough to slow them down.

By contrast, Bell’s army was seriously depleted. Hood finally abandoned Atlanta on Sept. 2. He wasn’t finished, though. Bell gathered whatever men and supplies that he had left, and after consultation with Jefferson Davis started moving north into Tennessee, threatening to re-take Nashville from the Yanks. After securing that city, Bell could continue north towards the Ohio River, threatening perhaps Cincinnati and other Union turf. This might have drawn Grant away from Petersburg (the siege of Lee’s forces in that key city just south of Richmond was under way by this time) and thus allowed Lee to head for the Potomac one more time.

But, the plan failed, big time. Sherman sent General George Thomas up to Nashville and after a 2 month campaign, Hood’s Army of the Tennessee was essentially out of business. (Thomas is one of the most under-rated Union generals.) All that the South had left was Lee’s army at Petersburg. Grant’s siege settled in for the winter; but by late March the city was taken, Richmond fell, and Lee’s final march to Appomattox was under way.

Is the Tea Party and the right wing GOP now heading for its own Petersburg and Appomattox? Well, as with every analogy, the parallels only go so far. John Boehner didn’t have a Jefferson Davis sending him impatient and critical telegrams demanding more aggressive fighting. It was more of a “mob logic” that Boehner had to face. And yet, whoever replaces Boehner, perhaps California Congressman Kevin McCarthy (who is something of a Boehner protege), will have to take a John Bell Hood approach. And because of that, over the coming months leading up to the Presidential election in late 2016, the American public will see what the GOP really wants to do with the country (the right wing part of the GOP, anyway). Will this backfire and help the Democrats maintain the White House and perhaps get within range of re-taking the Senate?

History sometimes repeats itself, sort-of anyway. So stay tuned! And hats off to John Boehner, who like Joe Johnston fought carefully for good reason — but unlike Johnston, Boehner fought mostly to keep the nation in business (despite all the negative anti-Obama rhetoric). Boehner didn’t have an actual Abraham Lincoln as inspiration, but perhaps Pope Francis wasn’t a bad substitute when pondering how to “do the right thing”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:56 pm      

  1. Jim, I think I agree with you, only I’d express my agreement a little different from your expression. I too was sorry in a way to hear that John Boehner resigned. I am not sure that the Pope had anything to do with his resignation; but then again, it’s possible. I did hear on Facebook some very scurrilous “talk” about a personal problem Boehner may have that might have prompted his resignation. I’ll not repeat it here as it may have been true but seemed to be unfounded and simply gossip when I read it. Yet, one considers the tears of Boehner and the timing of his resignation and wonders if such gossip could be true. One never knows. I’ve not seen one further reference to anything that comes near the talk about Boehner. So, I’d tend to take things as they are presented on the face of things at this time.

    It seems to me that the GOP has in the last few years become more and more conservative; but the conservative-ness of the party seems to be not based on any real good reasons. In some ways this conservative group – at least the conservative group that is most vocal – seems to think that if they make a lot of “noise” they will get what they want. Yet, I get the impression they have not thought through what they are against.

    One very small example: That of Donald Trump himself. He’s for keeping immigrants out of the U.S. and for not allowing the children of immigrants to have citizenship. Yet, his two wives are themselves immigrants; would he send his own children back to their “country of origin”? He himself is a child of immigrants. Would he himself return to the country where his mother was born? Obviously, this man is not thinking with any sense whatsoever.

    And the same types of mistakes in arguments seem to go on and on with a similar lack of any thought at all, no matter the topic.

    I find myself thinking of the many people I’ve known, particularly in the last half of my life (and maybe this is only because I’ve paid more attention to the situation than I did previously), who seem to have one of two approaches to “arguments”. One might use the word “debate” here or “disagreements”. I’ll use them interchangeably.

    Some people seem to listen to one side of a “debate” (whether it is simply two people discussing something or a large group discussing with another large group), but I find they are not *really* listening. They are simply figuring out what it is they are going to present as their next point in the ongoing “argument”. I have even known one person who would be considered an educated person who should have some very considered opinions (and here there are no personal references to anyone you know); yet this person would always, without exception, argue against what another person had to say. Even if I (for example) were taking the side this person was arguing, this change in “argument” would cause the person to reverse his/her own argument – and the person was now arguing what he/she had before been against. I’d find myself wondering: Do you know you are now agreeing with what you were previously against? It seems the “thought” of the person here was that “discussion” was simply taking the opposite side of what someone else was saying, regardless of what opinion the other person held. So at no time did this person really *listen* to what another was saying; this person would always simply be thinking what it was the next “argument” he/she would be.

    I tend to think that there are a lot of people around – and in politics – who like take this approach to a “discussion”: “Whatever you say, I’m against it.”

    Then there are those individuals who seem to get a thrill out of what has roughly been called “stirring the pot”. These individuals seem to think that if there is not a “fight” of some kind going they have no “relationship” with another or are making no contribution to whatever the situation is.

    I find myself wondering these things about the latest “splinter” group of the GOP. Are these individuals one these types of individuals – only now gathered into a group?

    I am hoping that come the primaries – and if not the primaries at least the general election – the extreme individuals in the GOP find themselves to be a rather small minority and find also that making a lot of “noise” about what it is they want, no matter how poorly thought out will not get them very far. If they “win”, we are in for some seriously “stupid” years ahead. (Sorry to put it so bluntly.)

    I must also say that I think Obama has the right approach to this entire situation: Simply move on ahead, working toward what he sees is needed in the country, and refusing to engage in the nonsense thinking of some (few?) of the GOP extremists. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — September 28, 2015 @ 6:57 pm

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