Boehner Opens 113th Congress with Sad Posturing

John Boehner has held on to his job as Speaker of the House for now, mostly because no one ran against him. That may be because none of his Republican colleagues wants that nightmare of a job, or it may be because they want it, but just think biding their time a little longer is the best play. In any case, Boehner now faces the challenge of dealing with a caucus full of nutbars who would happily send the country off all manner of cliffs, fiscal and otherwise, if it meant sticking it to Barack Obama or those mooching 47 percent of Americans they think he represents. And how do you deal with a group like that? Empty symbolic gestures, of course!

Boehner has apparently made it clear to his caucus that he'll no longer participate in one-on-one negotiations with President Obama, letting them know that just like them, he thinks Obama is such a low-down dirty snake that there's no point in even talking to the guy. But can they still talk on the phone? What about texting? If Obama calls Boehner on Skype, can Boehner take the call but turn off his camera so Obama can hear him but not see him?

As Jonathan Chait correctly notes, this is pretty silly—it isn't as though the reason House Republicans feel they didn't get what they wanted was because there was too much one-on-one negotiating, and the eventual agreement was something that the Senate passed and they just had to accept. But I think the point is for Boehner to send an emotional signal. This reminds me of something I and others wrote about during the presidential primaries. One of the ways Mitt Romney handled conservative disgruntlement about his health care record antagonistic posturing. He would get emphatic when he talked about Obamacare, raising his voice and using extreme language to describe the socialistic tyranny it embodied. He never proposed anything particularly conservative on health care (other than repealing the hated Affordable Care Act "on day 1!"), but the substance wasn't the point. It was enough to signal to base voters that he hated the President's plan just like they did.

So I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first of many momentarily dramatic but ultimately meaningless gestures Boehner makes to assure House conservatives that he shares their view of things. It doesn't much resemble governing, but that makes it no different from most of what Boehner does these days.

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