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John Boehner And Lessons In Do-Nothing Leadership

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the problems in passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the problems in passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

In commenting on the power of his office, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives once quipped, “Powerful? Let me explain something to you. At the end of the day, I preside over 240 people that I didn’t hire, and I can’t fire.” Yet David Bartley was, by most accounts, an enormously effective leader of the House. Not so, John Boehner.

You know you’re having a bad day as speaker when your own bill to fund the Homeland Security Department is voted down because a mini-mob of your own party’s members leave you in the lurch:

Washington Post: “a major defeat for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who has struggled to govern even as Republicans hold unified control of congress.”

Politico: “Boehner Fails Again

New York Times: “a stunning and humiliating setback for Speaker John Boehner…”

Since this weepy and woebegone “leader” of the House Republicans in congress was elected speaker, events like this have become routine occurrences. The current hapless and hopeless fight over putting the country at risk because a few of your colleagues labeled as “illegal” the president’s recent executive order on immigration is just the latest in a long line of Boehner boo-boos.

Still it’s amazing how much slack the chatter class is willing to cut him. Poor John, we’re told. He doesn’t believe any of what he’s saying. He’d much prefer to get something done. He’s only doing what he has to do.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

How much longer must we wait for John Boehner to transform himself from a leader in name to a leader in fact?

Seriously? A real leader would face down the fools on his far flank and force them to actually read the document they so eagerly wave in everybody else's face — the United States Constitution.

The last time I checked, the Supreme Court gets to say what’s constitutional and what isn’t. And if you don’t like their decisions (Obamacare, Citizens United, Immigration, etc), you have three options: change the law, change the court, or change the constitution.

It’s up to the Speaker of the House to give a stern reminder to guys like Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks that, no matter how many years he spent in the Tuscaloosa District Attorney’s office, shutting down the U.S. government because he can’t get his way is not an option. Period.

That’s what Tip O’Neill would have done. That’s what Sam Rayburn would have done. How much longer must we wait for John Boehner to transform himself from a leader in name to a leader in fact? Suffice it to say that they won’t be naming a federal building after him any time soon.

It’s too bad that the aforementioned David Bartley — who went on to become president of Holyoke Community College — didn’t teach a course on how to be a great speaker. For starters, he might have advised John Boehner to take a look at his job title in the Constitution: Speaker of the House, not Speaker of the Majority Party Within the House. As that title should tell him, the job description is to find a working majority of all the members in support of public policy choices that most closely mirror his own political philosophy. Plain and simple.

It has been less than two months since the GOP took full control of this Congress and sadly, two things are undeniably true:

1) The radical tail is still wagging the rational dog.

2) That dog won’t hunt.

Nick Paleologos Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Nick Paleologos is a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and a two-time Tony Award winning producer.

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