If accounts of Barack Obama’s and John Boehner’s doings during the week of September 9 had appeared in the parody newspaper The Onion, they would have been occasion for laughter. But since the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House really did transact the nation’s business with laughably low levels of intelligence and integrity, the past week’s events sadly confirm the quality of elites that our ruling class’ Democratic and Republican wings promote and produce.
Obama proposed a plan for striking Syria with cruise missiles, carefully designed to avoid accomplishing any meaningful military result; while Boehner proposed to hold votes in Congress nominally to prohibit funds for the 2010 Health Care Law while actually appropriating them. These disparate plans were identical in essential respects. First, both violated the logic of the fields in which the activity of each was to take placewar and legislation, respectively. Second, Obama and Boehner assumed that the American people would neither notice the deception and nonsense, nor care. Third, although polls showed that the American people oppose both striking Syria and retaining Obamacare, Obama and Boehner were confident of each other’s support, and assumed that the ruling class’ unity would be enough for success. In fact however each withdrew his plan in the face of public scorn.
In short, these heads of our ruling class’ Democratic and Republican branches made plans with reference only to the ruling class’ priorities, and assumed that the rest of America would be too stupid or too awed to object. But no.
To be sure, the American people were inclined to reject even a well-crafted proposal for war on Syria. Since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan, deadly experience had re-taught the Founders’ common sense, namely that America ought to fight only its own battlesand those to win, or not fight them at all. George W. Bush went to war vaguely appealing to patriotism and the desire for vengeance for 9/11, without identifying the enemies whose demise would earn our peace. And so his “war on terror” turned into “nation building” and halfhearted expenditure of American lives, because that is what our ruling class does.
But Obama’s proposal for Syria was half-hearted expenditure of blood and treasure, explicitly. Explicitly it guaranteed no results other than an open-ended cycle of reprisals. First to sign on were the Republican ruling class’ usual suspectsthe Karl Roves and John Boehners. But outside the ruling class, opposition on substance cut across all demographics.
There remained the pitch that, the President having spoken in America’s name, Americans are duty bound to make good his words with their lives, if need be. But a generation’s experience, and the Senate having saved America from the consequences of bad treaties signed by Presidents (e.g. global warming) had taught Americans that a President disgraced by his own foolishness may simply be left to his just rewards.
The Republican Party owes its majority in the House of Representativesand John Boehner his speakership thereofto the American people’s dislike of Obamacare. Because the US Constitution is explicit that the US government may expend only funds appropriated by Congress, Obamacare has existed strictly at the sufferance of the House leadership since that majority took office in January 2011. But John Boehner and his chosen band have thwarted the majority of Republican congressmen’s desire to use the constitutional power they have to refuse to appropriate money for Obamacare. In this, Boehner &co. have worked in bipartisan coordination with the ruling class, including the media, including Fox News.
By September 2013, spurred by the Party’s constituent groups, Republican congressmen and senators had vowed to exclude Obamacare from the omnibus spending bill that funds government operations. (the existence of such bills, which neuter Congress’ constitutional authority over spending, will be the subject of another column). Boehner and his band responded with a proposal to vote on the omnibus spending bill, twice: once without Obamacare, so as to allow Congressmen to feign evidence of faithfulness to the principles for which they were elected, and another with Obamacare. The latter would pass with the votes of all Democrats and just enough of the Republican leadership to put it over the top. It would become law, and satisfy the ruling class’ constituent groups: the insurance companies, the hospital lobby, as well as left wing ideologues.
Boehner’s plan was more transparently fraudulent than Obama’s, and its assumption that his audience would see it as anything else was an even more flagrant insult of that audience’s intelligence.
Also, it faced even stronger headwinds. Whereas striking Syria still drew some support from patriotic and humanitarian sentiments, support for Obamacare was dwindling daily to the ruling class’ inner core as the membership of organizations whose leaders had supported its passage now demanded that these leaders lobby for exemptions from it. The labor movement, one of the ruling class’ key constituencies, was turning against it as vehemently as the Republican rank-and-file. Hence Boehner’s continued fidelity to Obamacare was especially boneheaded.
The ruling class’ foolishness and insincerity, its willingness to insult the American people’s intelligence, are no joke. But we can take comfort in its transparent ineptitude.
|Angelo M. Codevilla is Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University, and the author of the books, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, Informing Statecraft, War: Ends and Means (with Paul Seabury), The Character of Nations, and Between the Alps and a Hard Place: Switzerland in World War II and the Rewriting of History.|