Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Unconditional gamesmanship

Every time I realize anew that this is not just a late-night comedy meme but that this man really is drinking himself into an impaired state while nominally on the job, as you can hear in the resentful voice-break and the thickness of his tongue, and an extremely important job at that, it's kind of shocking.

I think the worst pandit-prediction I've made since starting these scribblings was around last Christmas when I was certain that Boehner was ultimately going to find his way around that fiscal pavement-cut and avoid the sequester, and I've been kind of shy about trying [jump]
to imagine what's going to happen this time. It's profoundly distressing to have to think about these issues affecting many millions of lives at a William Safire/Maureen Dowd soap-opera level, too; I'd much rather be seeing it in the Olympian perspective of this beautiful essay by Paul Rosenberg on the grand sociocultural forces moving the new outbreak of racist-Christianist rebellion. But the thing is, it's really about Boehner at this point: he has the power to make things better on his own—or maybe we should be saying in 12-step terms that he doesn't have the power to do it on his own and needs to call on a Higher Power to help him out, but the point is all the many people he hates and fears, whether it's Barack Obama and Harry Reid on the one side or Eric Cantor and Teddy-Boy Cruz and all the rest on the other, truly can't do it for him.
According to Google Images, this image belongs to a story in The Independent (UK) headlined "Schoolgirl wins Plymouth City Council seat", but this is not true. If you want to learn more about Segway polo Google it yourself.
Of course it absolutely is a damn game, at least in the technical sense (Inskeep and Vedantam were talking about this on the radio early yesterday morning), and for Boehner it's a game in that personal sense too, as he sort of confessed in yesterday's statement:
"The president said today if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk to us," Boehner said Tuesday. "That's not the way our government works."
What the president is demanding is not an "unconditional surrender" unless you think of it as a game, with a schedule of wins and losses and postseasons. It's a recognition that there's nothing left that can be accomplished in this round of doing the people's work (the Affordable Care Act is certainly not on the table any more and when you ask the Republicans what is on the table they can't give you an answer—they want to negotiate to find out what they want) and it's time to move on to the next. If Boehner thinks of it as a surrender, it's because he's completely lost sight of the work aspect of it: the game aspect, and the question of whether he's scoring a win or a loss here is all he can see.

And that is the way the government works, when it's working. The legislature needs to get to a vote to determine what the government is going to do, and then the executive can direct the cabinet offices to carry it out. It is proposals, not parties, that win and lose; the parties win and lose in the regularly scheduled election campaigns, not on the Hill. Moreover Obama really and truly can't negotiate the kind of deal Boehner is evidently calling for, because no plan that funds the government and raises the debt ceiling (the two elements whose absolute necessity no moderately sane and informed person, including Boehner, would deny) can get that majority of Republican votes in the House that Boehner demands. It really is Boehner's problem, to either make those anti-Federalist members live by the surrender of 1865 (that one was unconditional; not a game but a war!) or accept a majority of the House as a whole.

In fact it's Cantor's problem to worry about the Republicans; Boehner's title isn't Speaker of the Party. That's why he ranks higher than the Senate majority leader in the official hierarchy; his position is above party, like that of a prime minister. It is a damn game, but he shouldn't be playing.
Dog-faced men from Henry Yule's commentaries on Marco Polo, who claimed to have seen such people in the Andaman Islands. Further information at Dog Law Reporter.

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