It's often hard to understand how House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sees the world, but his whining at the Ripon Society this week seemed especially odd.
For those who can't watch clips online, this quote, which comes at the 9:56 mark, seemed the most newsworthy:
"[G]iven what we heard yesterday about the president's vision for his second term, it's pretty clear to me and should be clear to all of you that he knows he can't do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans. So we're expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me tell you, I do believe that is their goal -- to just shove us in the dustbin of history."
There's quite a bit to this. Boehner noted, for example, that President Obama can't achieve "any" of his policy goals so long as House Republicans maintain their majority (and since they've already rigged the congressional-district lines, they don't intend to cede that majority any time soon). This may have seemed like a throw-away line, but it's significant -- the policies the president addressed in his inaugural address enjoy strong public support, but as far as Boehner is concerned, less than a month into the new Congress and days into Obama's second term, the president's agenda is already a non-starter.
But it's the dramatic rhetoric about "annihilation" that raises eyebrows. As Boehner sees it, the even-keeled, technocratic Democrat, who's spent four years pursuing a fairly moderate agenda, endorsing Republican ideas, appointing Republicans to his cabinet, and expressing a willingness to compromise on practically everything, this guy has launched the audacious goal of "annihilating the Republican Party."
And how do we know this to be true? Because the often-confused House Speaker says so.
There is, however, a better, less fanciful, way of looking at the political landscape.
There are two competing political parties -- the president is the top elected official in one, Boehner is the top elected official in the other. The two leaders would like to lead the nation in different directions, but have an obligation to try to find some common ground.
Does Obama hope to defeat Republicans? Obviously, yes. Does he intend to "annihilate" the GOP? Well, no, not really. As best as I can tell, the president would be quite pleased, actually, if the radicalized Republican Party was brought back to the American mainstream, and stood ready to work constructively with other policymakers (i.e., Democrats) on finding solutions to public policy challenges.
If the party is unprepared to do serious work on serious issues, maybe it belongs in "the dustbin of history"?
Regardless, it appears the president's focus is on identifying challenges and solving them in a principled way. Republicans stand in the way of his success, which is why Obama is looking for ways to go around and/or through them, but that's a far cry from "annihilation."
Of course, arguably the most entertaining aspect of Boehner's complaint is the irony. As we discussed the other day, Republicans spent Obama's first term on a scorched-earth campaign, hoping to destroy his presidency and nearly everything he proposed. GOP leaders met privately exactly four years ago this to plot their comeback, focusing on obstructing the president wherever possible, and refusing to compromise with Obama on literally anything, even when he embraced Republican ideas.
Mitch McConnell famously boasted that his top goal -- above the economy, above national security, above everything -- was making sure Obama was "a one-term president." He and GOP colleagues then executed that plot without hesitation or shame.
And yet, this week, Boehner is whining that the president wants to annihilate them?