Politics is No Longer About Leadership

John Boehner embraces the neo-populist extreme: it’s the people’s sovereign right to be wrong about everything, even important things, and not Washington’s job to correct them. Rather, opinion leaders should let the people live in a fantasy world:

Some people believe that Obama, a native of Hawaii, was born outside the United States. There is also a persistent belief among some that Obama, a Christian, is actually a Muslim.

When the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” asked Boehner whether he, as speaker of the House, had a responsibility to “stand up to that kind of ignorance,” Boehner told David Gregory: “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”

Boehner continued: “Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.”

Especially when it’s politically productive to abandon objective reality, for a world where the facts are what we want them to be. We’ve come a long way from John Adams:

Facts are deaf — deaf as adders — to the clamors of the populace!



  1. I keep wondering why liberals want Prominent Republicans to issue a direct statement on this so bad. Is it because you think that it will change the minds of birthers or is it because you just want to see dissent on the Right?

    1. MarshallDog · ·

      I want to see it because it’s so sheepish for a prominent political figure to play to both sides when one side is so clearly wrong. And it’s really despicable to think anyone would pay lip service to nutcases just for votes.

      1. So let’s say Bohner comes out and says, “Obama is an American citizen and Birthers are wrong.” What is the outcome? What changes? He gets liberal respect? He loses future Repubican support? Birthers change their minds?

      2. Integrity is its own reward.

        1. That’s a cute remark – but let’s be honest here – what do you see happening of Bohner did that?

          1. Surely a statement by one of the most prominent leader figures in a political party would have some effect on what its members and adherents believe.

            Unless of course you think Boehner is such a weak leader that it won’t matter one bit whether he says one thing or the other? Because I could agree with you on that.

          2. Mike,
            Nothing will change the minds of birthers because they don’t want their minds changed. So in that respect you are right.

            But here’s the thing, at least for me – in an age where the President’s championing of healthcare “reform” legislation is bulldogged as “Job Killing” (which I view as especially pernicious after the Death Panels fiasco) even though about 2/3rds of the final law are Republican ideas, by not insisting that the “birthers” are wrong, and by not repeating known facts, the “prominent Republicans” are contributing to an Us vs. Them climate that is damaging our country and preventing real work on real issues. Over at my place you and I both agree that significant alterations in Defense spending need to be part of the deficit/debt solution. We can’t get that when the legitimacy of the Commander in Chief is questioned, because Republicans don’t need to work with someone “illegitimate”.

            On the other side of the coin, why do you oppose people like the Speaker being taken to task for not making such a simple factual statement? What do you think we gain by having only one side of the political aisle try to repel this pernicious rumor?

            1. I’m just looking at this as a simple matter of politics. What is the upside for Bohner for making the statement? He wants to stay in power and see the party gain more seats and the WH. Isn’t he better off maintaining a gray area with his staements? Look at it this way: Obama waffled a lot of Jermiah Wright in 2008 even with the GOP pushing him hard for definitive statements. He didn’t want to hurt himself politically. The Right talked about honor and all of that but we were deliberately over-looking the political ramifications. Why? Because we knew it would hurt him.

              Just look at Ames’ comment below. He’s such a political animal that he won’t even go on record as speculating about the ramifications of a move by Bohner because he knows it would tip his hand which is that he’s far more interested in political point scoring than political healing.

            2. The technical term for the above comment is “handwaving.”

              1. You’re ridiculous Ames. These guys are politicians. You’re a politician – even if an un-elected one. You want these guys to commit hari-kari in the interest of political healing or some other nonsense but the truth is that you’re motivations are just as suspect as Bohner’s. I get it with Phillip. He genuinely wants to see politicians behave better which is why he isn’t scared to be critical of his own side of the aisle. You though – you’re so in the tank for the Democratic party that everything your name should literally have a (D) after it. I can’t imagine anyone that comments around here really believes you r statments of sincertity but maybe you’ve got them snowed.

              2. So your response is, “assume bad faith and move on.”

            3. Also, Obama gave a long explanatory speech on Wright, as an example of the status of race relations in America.

              Apparently you don’t get that channel?

              1. How long did it take before he did that? How much pressure was on him? He only did that after Wright’s second round of statments.

                1. It took months. The “birthers” have been after this for years . . . how much longer do they need to wait?

                  1. Well since Bohner isn’t running for President – I think he has the luxury of time on his side. McCain, for example, was pretty clear that he dismissed those statments form the start – because politically he had to do it.

                    Look – you and I are in agreement, the Birther stuff is nonsense. But we also shouldn’t be surprised when politicians are deliberately vague when talking to the press. No one wants to go on record as taking a position until they absolutely have to.

                1. Why not after the first statements and the videos of his anti-American sermons?

                  1. Just out of curiosity… what “anti-American” sermons are you talking about? I am not aware of any of Wright’s sermons that are explicitly anti-American, though I admit I didn’t really pay much attention.

          3. I don’t see why this is a question I need to, or should answer. It’s sort of like if I ask you, “what do you see happening if you held the door for someone?” Well, they’d probably be very grateful, and you’d be happy, because it was the right thing to do. Speaking truth to the electorate isn’t something you should have to justify with consequences.

      3. Well, even Beck & O’Reilly have said it’s a bogus claim. That’s the supposed crowd people said he’d lose.

        Personally, I think there would be more good than bad. Especially, if as you said, he would want to put himself up in a leadership position, as McCain did.

        1. I don’t think Bohner has any interest in the Presidency – so again, politically speaking, there’s no upside for him. He needs to marshall all of the votes he can. He won’t lose any GOP votes because of his refusal to take a firm stance but he might lose some if he is definitive.

  2. MarshallDog · ·

    As a great American hero once said, “Facts are stupid things!”

  3. Let’s stop for a moment and marvel at the following: Mike is in the unique position of arguing that politicians shouldn’t be honest with their constituents, because only hacks demand that.

    1. I didn’t say they shouldn’t be honest – but let’s be real here, 90% of them are douchbags. They are worrying about job security and power first. I’m not going to pretend that doesn’t go on. Unlike AMes of course who IS pretending that he cares about honesty and decency in politics when political point scoring is his main objective here.

    2. I absolutely do care about honesty and decency. I don’t see how you skip to the contrary conclusion.

      1. Because I know you value your party in power so much more. You view politics not as a battle for what’s best for the country but as a team sport. maybe you want everyone to think your motivations here are pure but we both know it’s about the political points – which is exactly why you refuse to speculate on what would happen if Bohner took a firm stand.

      2. That’s some hearty speculation.

        1. Educated speculation informed by years of observation.

        2. And yet, if all you can do is second-guess my motives, you’re really conceding the point. No?

          1. Bet you a dollar Mike doesn’t have a substantive response to this. (If I lose, which is what I hope, I’ll look you up next time I visit my little sister in Manhattan.)

            1. I’ll bet you $2 that Ames never has the guts to speculate on what would happen if Bohner issued a definitive statement on the Birther stuff.

            2. Huh? I think he’d face a lot of criticism from the far right. But center-right Republicans would respect him, it would partially unify the party, and he’d pick up votes in the center, ultimately.

              1. How does alienating the Far Right ‘partially unify’ the party? That doesn’t even make sense.

                And also, why would Bohner need to pick up centrist votes? He represents a very conservative district and has won re-election ten times. He has never been seriously contested in a general election. On the flip side, pissing off the Far Right might actually opening him up to a primary challenge.

                So basically your argument is that he should shoot himself in the foot politically in the interest of showing the Center (a fickle bunch of voters) that not all Republicans are birthers. Really?

          2. I conceded the point from the start and if you look down through the comment thread you won’t see any comment where I defend Birthers or even defend Bohner on moral grounds. What I was specifically referring to in multiple comments was two things:

            1) the political reality doesn’t favor Bohner issuing a more firm statement

            2) Ames’ motivations in calling for a definitive statement are not the same as someone like Phillip who genuinely wants to see a more civil political discourse.

  4. It’s the cumulative effects of talking straight or not. The longer the GOP dances around issues like this, or deliberately stokes the flames, the harder it’s going to be for individual politicians, especially those at the head of the party, to ever take a contrary stance.

    1. I disagree – whoever emerges from the GOP primary will have to take a firm stance. If they are vague they will lose votes in the general election. So certain congressmen and senators will still hedge over the next 21 months but the guys at the top are going to have to be clear. If they aren’t, I’ll be the first o say that I hope the electorate makes them pay for it.

      1. But Boehner and Cantor are the guys at the top right now. Why don’t they have to take a firm stance against it?

        1. It might be wise for Cantor since I believe he has higher aspirations. Politically Bohner is better off straddling the fence.

  5. Someone else nails it:

    These men aren’t leaders. They’re followers. To lead a party, much less a country, you have to be able to say no. You have to stand up to liars, lunatics, and dupes on your party’s fringe. John McCain did it, in his clumsy way (there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim or Arab), when he was the GOP’s presidential nominee. Even Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck have done it. They’ve called the birther conspiracy theories “bogus,” “absurd,” and “ridiculous.”
    Why can’t Boehner, Cantor, or McConnell speak that bluntly? Why won’t they call a lie a lie? If they want to be leaders, it’s time to lead.

  6. […]What I’m talking about is journalists and bloggers trying to get prominent government officials on record as opposing X, Y or Z and taking a position that is directly opposed to at least a portion of their base.[…]


  7. […] put to bed and a declarative statement by Bohner would accomplish this, but when pushed he admits it would alienate some of Bohner’s base. Keep in mind that is the same base that believe in […]

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