May 19, 2024

Zealots are not politicians


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Zealots are not politicians

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – If there has been a weaker House Speaker than Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his name does not come to mind, and with the exception of rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., they’ve all been men. In any event, the last couple weeks have cemented Boehner’s place in history as an ineffectual leader, unable or unwilling to lead his caucus, and through his prolonged inaction causing unnecessary harm to the economy and the country.

This never would have happened under the legendary Rep. Sam Rayburn, D-Tex., or even Rep. Denny Hastert, R-Ill., the longest serving Republican Speaker. Of course, Hastert served with a Republican president, George W. Bush, and the GOP had the House majority so there wasn’t much opportunity for contention. Rayburn served with a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, but Democrats were firmly in control of Congress with large majorities and Sen. Lyndon Johnson, D-Tex., as Majority Leader in the Senate.

These men were patriots and politicians, an essential combination in our representative democracy. Politicians have gotten a bad name in recent years, inviting a backlash that manifests itself in a refusal to compromise. An entire freshman class of Republicans first elected in 2010, when the GOP reclaimed the House majority from the Democrats, campaigned on a promise to come to Washington and never compromise on their core belief that Obamacare must be repealed.

We saw the fruits of their labor these last two weeks, and the GOP didn’t get much in return for shutting down the government and causing hardship to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. The lesson they should have learned is that compromise is at the heart of our democracy. We didn’t have threats of government shutdowns and debt default in the 1950’s when Ike was in the White House, and Democrats ran the Congress. After Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., brought Republicans to the majority in the House in 1994, he and his party forced two shutdowns over spending levels for Medicare, but they never flirted with defaulting on the debt. That was a step too far.

Now Gingrich holds forth every night on the retooled “Crossfire” on CNN where he can stand firm on a range of topics, but as Speaker he knew how to compromise. Even in the midst of impeaching President Clinton, Gingrich was ready to make deals.

The turning point was the emergence of the Tea Party, and the election of Tea Party-backed candidates, many who had never before held elective office. United in their opposition to Obamacare and unfamiliar with the give and take of legislative work, they came to Washington determined to stay true to their beliefs, and to never compromise. It is not an over-statement to describe them as zealots.

A zealot is by nature not a politician, and while a zealot might get elected, his or her goals are very different from those of a politician. One is trying to make the government function; the other wants to remake the system, and if they have to destroy it first, that’s a form of zealotry. They would burn the house down to save it.

As Washington limped toward a resolution of this latest showdown, there are no real winners, just losers, some bigger than others. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz agreed not to filibuster a bipartisan Senate agreement that would open the government and raise the debt ceiling, a retreat for him that suggests even the most zealous of zealots can be brought to reason if the cost is ratcheted up high enough. Cruz alienated most of his Republican colleagues by boxing them into a corner over Obamacare, a program they never had any hope of repealing, and by crossing the GOP leadership and negotiating directly with House Republicans. The deal that percolated its way through Congress put Cruz and his House allies in their place for now, but likely not for long. That’s the nature of zealotry, never give up, never compromise.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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