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Monday, July 25, 2011

What motivated Boehner?

In my last blog I linked to a couple different articles that I have found compelling and that are striking alternatives to Timothy Dalrymple’s narrative. To recap, Tim argues that Speaker Boehner is justified in walking away from the negotiations last week because the president had poor motivations for the negotiations (only in it to “achieve a legacy-burnishing grand compromise”), deceptive in his negotiations (“jello-like”) and “irresponsible” in his Friday press conference (“the worst sort of demagoguery”). Tim leaves totally unexplored the logic behind Boehner’s stated reasons for walking away from the negotiations, reasons I find significant and telling. Here are two other writers who provide a different perspective and motivation for Boehner’s decision to walk away from the negotiations.

Here is Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, reflecting on the broader rhetorical context of Boehner’s decision:

We’ve watched for three years now as the right has unloaded every manner of vitriol on Obama it can think of. Muslim, socialist, communist, fascist, terrorist, what have you. Whenever someone crossed an obvious line—say, with a racial joke—defenders popped up: Come on, it’s just rhetoric. Not that big a deal.

But a group’s rhetoric has a way of creating its own reality, which in turn forces a certain kind of behavior. If you say someone is a terrible American, even if you’re just joking at first, eventually you believe it. And if you believe it, how can you negotiate with the person? You can’t. You can only defeat him.

Dana Milbank on the broader policy context of the president’s tax proposal:

So far, the Default Caucus is disregarding the advice of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, warnings from Standard & Poor’s, the record of Ronald Reagan and even the permission of Grover Norquist, the conservative loyalty enforcer who said that ending the Bush-era tax cuts would not violate lawmakers’ anti-tax pledges. The Default Caucus has dismissed all compromises. Obama and Boehner’s “Grand Bargain”? The “Gang of Six” proposal? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s plan? No, nay, never. Even Tom Coburn’s plan to shave deficits by $9 trillion was disparaged as a “$1 trillion tax hike.”
Boehner is dealing with a caucus that he helped get elected that is profoundly distrustful of the president and deeply opposed to any tax increase. He is doing the best he can with that reality and maybe Timothy is right that he is doing even better than we realize. But lets not kid ourselves--the idea that Preisdent Obama's negotiation tactics and press conference antics are anywhere near as important to Boehner's position as the rhetorical and policy reality of his caucus is bogus. 

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