Fewer things are more fun in
Washington than when conventional wisdom is proven to be
conventional folly, and the predicted result misses the
actual result by more-or-less 180 degrees.
So it was with the election
for Majority Leader in the US House yesterday in which
Ohio’s John Boehner (BAY-ner), of Ohio, defeated acting
Majority Leader Roy Blunt, of Missouri, by a second-round
vote of 122-109.
Democrats couldn’t get to
their mass e-mail lists quickly enough to say this was a
horrible thing for the Republicans, but it is not. Not at
Let’s review recent history …
This vote for Leader became
necessary because the previous Majority Leader, Tom DeLay,
was indicted by a goofball of a county prosecutor in
Austin, Texas and House Republican Conference rules require
members of the leadership to step aside in such an event.
In the US House and Senate, the massed Democrats call
themselves a “caucus.” The Republicans call themselves a
“conference.” I am not certain why this is, but I
am certain that it is.
Beginning in 1995, after the
Gingrich Republicans overcame 40 years of Democratic
inertia to take control of the US House, John Boehner was
elected chairman of the Republican Conference. In US House
parlance that is the fourth highest post on the majority
side, third on the minority side.
The Rankings go: Majority
(minority) leader; Majority (minority) Whip, Conference
Because the majority has the
Speaker in the number one spot, Conference or Caucus chair
is fourth on the majority side.
Dear Mr. Mullings:
WE GET IT! Enough, already.
Just trying to help out.
Back in the day, Newt was
Speaker, Dick Armey was Majority Leader, Tom DeLay was Whip
and Boehner was Conference Chairman. In that role, Boehner
was responsible for creating almost all of the “messages”
coming out of the GOP side of the House.
DeLay was elected Whip over
Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Walker, who had been Newt’s
sidekick for years, largely on a platform of “We Can’t Give
Newt ALL the Power.” Thus, not much love has been lost
between Newt and DeLay over the past 10 years.
And because Boehner had a
good relationship with Gingrich, DeLay was not without
interest in getting him defrocked if the opportunity
Comes the election of 1998 –
the midterm election in the second administration of Bill
Clinton – and the GOP was planning to pick up between eight
and 12 seats.
On that Tuesday the GOP lost
five. By Friday Newt had resigned as Speaker.
After some fits and starts,
Dennis Hastert (who had been DeLay’s deputy Whip) was
elected Speaker. DeLay mounted another anti-Newt effort to
begin consolidating power and engineered an election for
Conference Chair dethroning Boehner.
Oklahoma Congressman J.C.
Watts, the only Black Republican in the Conference, was
elected. Mr. Watts was not the strongest member of the
Leadership and DeLay immediately removed almost all of the
messaging assets from the Conference and brought them into
the Whip’s office.
After the election of 2004,
when Dick Armey retired, DeLay was unanimously elected to
the position of Majority Leader. Roy Blunt was elected to
the now-vacant position of Whip.
When DeLay was forced to step
down, Blunt (again after some fits and starts) kept his
Whip post, but became Acting Majority Leader. It quickly
became clear that two jobs were too much for one person and
the Conference demanded that a vote for a permanent
replacement for DeLay be held.
Yesterday it was.
John Boehner’s personality is
the polar opposite of DeLay’s. Where DeLay is pugnacious,
Boehner is conciliatory. Where DeLay is aggressive,
Boehner is understanding. Where DeLay is easy to dislike,
Boehner is very easy to … like.
Once again the old saying,
“Be careful what you wish for; you may get it” has come to
pass. The Democrats in the House wanted to get rid of Tom
DeLay. They did.
They got, in his place, John
Boehner, a talented leader who will be very difficult to
make into the pro-lobbyist, anti-reform monster the House
Democrats are looking for.
Republicans will retain the
House in the elections of 2006.
On a the Secret Decoder
Ring page today: A link to a bio of Dick Armey,
the Washington Post’s early coverage of the Leadership
race, a sociologically important Mullfoto and a Catchy
Caption of the Day which is fairly dreadful.