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Boehner and the Disappearing Art of the Deal

It was easy to miss in yesterday’s flurry of news about indictments and Kevin Spacey, but Politico has published a long and fascinating piece based on 18 hours of interviews with former House Speaker and longtime congressman John Boehner.

After 25 years of hard-driving Washington deal-making, Boehner retired from Congress in near-ignominy in 2014, having been driven out in part by ultra-conservative firebrands who didn’t care for some of Boehner’s deals.

The article is full of juicy tidbits about Washington personalities and the machinations that make our government run. But it also sparks a little nostalgia for the old-school Washington politics that are quickly dying out.

Boehner embodied those politics–he knew the art of the deal and understood that, to accomplish anything in Washington, he needed to cultivate relationships with his “enemies” across the aisle. Contrast that with today’s stubborn ideologues who seem to be taking over Congress: to appease their base, they refuse to make even the slightest concession to the other side. To compromise, they think, is to cave in to “evil”–and so the divide between Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives, keeps widening and deepening.

These ideologues seem to forget that America is a republic, which means that all voices–no matter how extreme or distasteful–have representation in government. It means that someone whose beliefs are repugnant to you still has a say, and a lot of folks in this entitled generation don’t like that. They want what they want, and they won’t take anything less.

There is plenty to dislike about Boehner and his style of legislating. He’s a mixed bag–just like those old-school Washington politics were, with their cronyism and backroom dealing. But if our “principled” representatives won’t compromise, it ultimately renders the Everyman powerless. Only the powerful who know how to work the system will get a voice, and that power will keep consolidating. And then America won’t look much like America anymore.

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