The test of intestinal fortitude

The test of intestinal fortitude
The test of intestinal fortitude
White House photo

For two years, John Boehner has struggled as arguably the weakest House Speaker in modern times. He’s afraid to challenge members of his far-right caucus, afraid to strike deals conservative activists won’t like, and afraid of compromises that his party wouldn’t tolerate.

And with this in mind, his latest verbal attacks against President Obama are especially odd.

House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday repeatedly challenged the president’s willingness to go against his own party on issues that include reforms to social programs and spending.

“I think he’d like to deal with it [fiscal problems], but to do the kind of heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don’t think he’s got the guts to do it,” the Ohio Republican said in a meeting with a small group of reporters for nearly an hour Tuesday morning…. When pressed about the severity of that statement, he modified, saying the president does not have the “courage.”

Yeah, that’s far more polite.

There’s actually two layers of irony here. The first is that Boehner is convinced that Obama lacks the intestinal fortitude to adopt positions the left won’t like. Here’s a challenge for the Speaker: ask any liberal activist in America if they agree.

The second, of course, is that Speakers who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Boehner is infinitely more reluctant to break with his party’s orthodoxy than Obama is, and I don’t think anyone in American politics has ever considered the Speaker for a Profile in Courage Award.

Wait, it gets worse.

“I am not suggesting that this is easy,” Boehner said, “but what I am suggesting is that he is the President of the United States. This is the biggest threat to our society.”

Now, to consider a long-term debt issue “the biggest threat to our society” is kind of insane. There is no crisis; the deficit is shrinking; the debt is practically on a sustainable course already; and interest rates, inflation, and treasury yields are all very low.

But also note, even Boehner couldn’t possibly believe his own talking points. If the Speaker seriously believed the debt is “the biggest threat to our society,” he wouldn’t have voted for Bush’s tax cuts, Bush’s wars, Bush’s Medicare expansion, and Bush’s Wall Street bailout, paying for all it entirely through deficit financing. He also would be eager to strike a balanced deal with the Obama White House, which Boehner has refused to do.

That said, if the Speaker seriously believes the debt is “the biggest threat to our society,” he should show the “guts”/”courage” to address the problem by working with Democrats on a solution.