I have a number of friends who have been influential and highly placed Republicans. (I say “have been” because most of them have left the party. Or, perhaps more appropriately, the party has left them.) They’ve run campaigns, or served in significant roles in various statehouse or federal administrations. Two years ago, I was having lunch with one of them when I heard myself saying, “I kind of like John Boehner. I don’t agree with him, but I think he’s an American patriot. And I feel sorry for him.”
Yesterday, when I saw that he resigned, while my Democrat friends were cheering, my heart sank. As I posted on one liberal friend’s Facebook page, “We’ll see how much you like what comes next.”
Vitriol isn’t new to American politics, and isn’t new to politics anywhere. (As the histories of ancient Greece and Rome attest.) But I wish we had less of it, and more focus on areas where viewpoints converge to fix actual problems. One of my former-Republican friends advises people to find the area of agreement and work on that. To do that, people have to stay civil. We could use more of that.
I’ve done my fair share of mocking political leaders I don’t agree with; lately, unless they’re truly vile or evil (same word, spelled differently), I resist. I woke up this morning again to find hundreds of my Facebook friends going on about John Boehner’s “orange skin” and his propensity for tears, and giving ha-ha-ha’s at him. Here’s what I feel I know about John Boehner: because he came from humble origins, he was indeed frequently moved by finding himself second in line to the presidency; because he actually cared not only about the aims of his party but the needs of the country, he tried to wrangle a recurring heretic mob into agreement. Was he a successful Speaker? No. Will we like what comes next? No. Part of me believes that Boehner is doing this now so that he can go out on his own terms — refusing to shut down the government again, because now he’s free to work a deal with whomever he likes.
One of Boehner’s stated goals was to be an historic Speaker. I can’t find a previous example of a Speaker stepping down in precisely this fashion. So now he’s made history. It’s not the history he wanted, and not the one we should have wanted either.