In his latest attempt to impose discipline on his famously disorderly Republican caucus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose the soft power of public mockery over the more militant promise of private retribution. Speaking at an event in his home state, Boehner lashed out at fellow Republicans who have stymied immigration reform. “Here’s the attitude,” Boehner said of his recalcitrant colleagues. ‘Oooh, don’t make me do this. Oooh, this is too hard.’ ”
He spoke not in his usual solemn tones but with a high, child-like pitch, suggesting that his tormentors were in need of adult supervision.
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Boehner is hardly the first legislative leader to reach that conclusion. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican who served as Senate majority leader in the early 1980s, famously said that rounding up votes was like “herding kittens.” But during Boehner’s three-plus years as speaker, he has been notably unable to prod his colleagues in a productive direction. Earlier this year, Boehner was forced to withdraw his own debt-ceiling bill after realizing that, despite being speaker of the House of Representatives and commander in chief of his fellow House Republicans, he didn’t have enough GOP votes.
Actually, it’s not just a matter of addition and subtraction. Boehner’s plight is the result of forces in U.S. politics that have made the plums of another age — choice committee assignments, extra staff members, bridge repairs in the home district, even, yes, special parking spaces — less important than face time on television or a timely contribution from the neo-bosses of the 21st century, like the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.