By Lee Cary
When Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal he backed himself into a corner. Yet again.
Here’s his first paragraph:
“A week from now, a dramatic new federal policy is set to go into effect that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more. In a bit of irony, President Obama stood Tuesday with first responders who could lose their jobs if the policy goes into effect. Most Americans are just hearing about this Washington creation for the first time: the sequester. What they might not realize from Mr. Obama’s statements is that it is a product of the president’s own failed leadership.”
This piece is a tactical error by the G.O.P. leader who has, on repeated occasions, demonstrated an astonishing lack of 360° political awareness.
First, he accepts the premise of Obama’s campaign to exaggerate and pre-blame the alleged consequences of a sequester on Republicans.
Boehner effectively traps himself trap by labeling sequestration “a dramatic new federal policy…that threatens U.S. national security.” That’s precisely Obama’s position. Some pundits have said that this is a clever move by Boehner, taking Obama’s position. If that was his intent, he’s too clever by-half.
If he wants to find evidence of a policy that “threatens U.S. national security,” Boehner need look only to Republican Senator Richard Shelby who said, of Secretary of Defense nominee former Senator Chuck Hegel, that “He’s probably as good as we’re going to get.” Now there’s a novel qualification for supporting someone for the most important national defense job in the nation: “as good as we’re going to get.” Suppose Shelby said that about his fiancée before the ceremony? “She’s probably as good as I’m going to get.”
Boehner rounds out his self-trapping lede by predicting that thousands will lose their jobs, and “more.” Even more bad consequences than what Obama has already claimed and blamed?
A possible sequestration is a very bad thing, claims Boehner, as he confirms and enhances Obama’s meme. So, according to Boehner, it could be even worse than what the President has claimed, Boehner implies.
The truth is that sequestration is not a disastrous outcome. Not even a bad one. It’s an insignificant reduction in spending from what’s planned, but still an increase over last year. It’s a drop out of the federal money bucket.
Boehner writes that it’s ironical that President Obama stood with first responders who could lose their jobs as a result of a crisis that he, Obama, caused.
So how does that follow? Are the responders federal employees? Boehner tacitly confirms that they are, and that they could lose their jobs. (Who’s the hand, and who’s the sock, in this sock puppet show?)
But that’s not irony. It’s just more demagogic theater from Obama. And that’s the tack Boehner should have taken, instead of confirming Obama’s alleged sequestration consequences and playing the blame game, the nuances of which elude the low information voters, and put-off many of the rest of us.
Here’s where Boehner’s op-ed failed: He didn’t make a case on the basis of any definitive fiscal principle. Consequently, that begs the question: Does he hold any…fiscal principles?
Continuing, Boehner writes: “Most Americans are just hearing about this Washington creation for the first time: the sequester.”
That’s may be true of those without radios or televisions; who don’t read newspapers; don’t get news off the internet, or, have been in solitary confinement for a couple of months. The rest of us are weary of hearing how the sky will fall if sequestration happens, how fluffy puppies will starve, and how our toilets won’t flush anymore.
If Boehner is correct in that most Americans are very new to the notion of sequestration, then they can’t understand what his article is about in the first place. It’d be like those totally unacquainted with the procedure reading a New England Journal of Medicine article concerning abdominal liposuction.
The first paragraph of his op-ed is a self-set trap.
In the second paragraph, Boehner firmly confirms the President’s case: “There is nothing wrong with cutting spending that much—we should be cutting even more—but the sequester is an ugly and dangerous way to do it.”
What’s “ugly and dangerous” is the insane spending of the federal government. If a sequester is, in fact, ugly, then federal budgets that represent serial, unrepentant ugliness may need a dose of ugly serum to inject some fiscal reality inside the Beltway, where the last two administrations, one Republican and one Democrat, have sustained profane spending levels, while piously calling their behavior “unsustainable.”
Midway through his piece, Boehner asks: “How did the country find itself in this mess?”
He knows the answer. He was there as, like Thelma and Louise, both political parties have taken a turn at driving the nation nearer, daily, to fiscal insolvency.