Muftic: Extremism takes another political victim
Circus balancing acts nearly always succeed. It they do not, performers do not stay long in the business. Politics is another story.
Last week saw balance take a back seat to extreme views when House Speaker John Boehner threw in the towel, foreseeing a collision with a 40-member Tea Party caucus wanting to hold hostage the functioning of government to a single issue.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis with great delicacy delivered messages in person to the American people and Catholics in a way that would make a tight rope walker proud.
In past eras, the middle, the balance between poles was once the substance of the business of governing. It is rare now when balance works and often imbalance is cheered by partisans holding less than a majority vote when they roll over their opposition without having themselves to budge an inch or take a political penalty at the ballot box.
Boehner quit, he said, to save the institution of Congress. He probably meant that Congress was structured to force compromise. I suspect another reason was that he wanted to come to the aid of the Republican Party. Most right wing Tea Party members of his GOP Congressional caucus were protected from political repercussions by representing safe districts with constituents who agreed with them. The Tea Party had failed to get their way on defunding Planned Parenthood when the House votes were counted. Never mind federal laws already prevented federal funds from being used for abortions. They cared little if their actions would deprive the service of any federal dollars to provide other low cost women’s health services. They threatened to block approval of the entire federal budget, resulting in shutdown of government services.
Boehner had been there, done that. In 2013, the GOP-dominated House engineered an actual shutdown for two weeks over a single issue, defunding Obamacare. The result: The economy took a $12 to $24 billion hit. The GOP got the blame in spite of their attempt to cast blame on a stubborn president. Polls showed Americans believed the GOP was responsible over Democrats 39 percent to 19 percent.
In order for Boehner to stop this government shutdown, he would have had to draw on Democratic votes, anathema to Republican extremists. They had attacked Boehner in the past for relying on the enemy and Boehner was facing some very contentious moments if he did it again. Clearly he was just tired of it and he, humming “ Zip-a-dee-doo dah”, quit.
On the other hand, Pope Francis was last week’s balancer in chief, giving pronouncements on his visit to the U.S. about what he considered to be the moral course on critical governmental issues, some of which warmed the hearts of conservatives with his family focus, and cheered liberals with issues such as caring about income inequality, humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, caring for the poor, and global warming. While he did not propose legislative directives of “thou shall or shalt not” to Congress, he urged compromise and dissed extremism.
Nonetheless, he made his points without adding to the political polarization he so deplored. Perhaps the Pope inspired devout Catholic Boehner to turn his disgust with extremists into the action he took.
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