May 19, 2024

Where have all the leaders gone?


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – During our Fourth of July celebration of the Declaration of Independence, it is well to remember the primary author of that document, Thomas Jefferson, and his words: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . . That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” And it would seem that some alterations are now due.

Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, is suing President Obama for allegedly overstepping his power by resorting to governing by executive orders in the absence of congressional action. Boehner hasn’t specified the exact basis of the suit, which most analysts regard as a stunt and not a serious legal effort.

Democrats are using Boehner’s lawsuit to rally their base. There’s nothing that gets Democrats more worked up than impeachment, and Boehner’s threatened legal action steps right up to the line of the dreaded “I” word.

The wheels of justice grind slowly in Washington if at all, and some Democrats suspect that Boehner is using a lawsuit as a safety valve to head off House Republicans eager to impeach Obama.  Boehner knows that any move toward impeachment ahead of the November midterms would be seen as a vast overreach.

With Republicans poised to win control of the Senate, and to gain House seats, Boehner is trying to keep the lid on impeachment. Still, when the average voter hears that the Speaker of the House is suing the president, the normal response is what planet do these people live on?

Just when you think Congress can’t get any worse, or any more partisan, or sillier, Boehner comes up with this. Obama responded that if Congress doesn’t like what he’s doing, it should pass some bills. It should do its job, which is legislating. Governing by executive orders is not Obama’s first choice; it’s his last resort.

Still, there’s plenty blame to go around on the Republican side when it comes to obstructing Obama. The height of hypocrisy was on exhibit this week as lawmakers paid their final tributes to former Senate leader Howard Baker, R-Tenn., whose passing inspired Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, TR-Ky., to effusively praise his predecessor as “the great conciliator.”

If McConnell thinks this is such a great attribute, he should consider trying it. Instead, he and Boehner may be remembered as the Great Obstructionists. In today’s Republican Party, anyone who attempts to work with the other side is considered a squish, or RINO (Republican in Name Only). Men of Baker’s stature who dare to cross party lines and forge deals with Democrats are a lost breed in today’s Congress.

Baker’s passing last week at age 88 reminds us how rare it is to find leaders like him in today’s hyper partisan political environment. He was the minority leader in 1978 when President Carter needed 67 votes on two treaties, one that would turn over the Panama Canal to Panama, and the other, a pledge of neutrality that included the right of the U.S. to defend the Canal.

Republican opposition was fierce, led by conservative firebrand Jesse Helms, R-N.C., yet Baker was able to hold 17 Republicans together, delivering a victory to Carter on both treaties. The Senate took its charge seriously. More than half the members traveled to Panama for a first-hand look at the canal, and to meet with Panamanian President Torrijos, who worked with the White House to overcome conservative opposition.

Baker went on to make his name on the bipartisan committee that investigated President Nixon, asking the question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Well-liked and respected by both parties, Baker served as President Reagan’s chief of staff in 1987 and 1988, helping Reagan to recover from the Iran-Contra scandal.

Baker once said there were only two things that he didn’t understand: the Middle East and the House of Representatives. Those words are as true today as they were when he first spoke them. What’s changed is the absence of leaders like Baker willing to venture into the arena and take positions even when they don’t have all the answers.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound
© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.



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