Salena Zito

He knew his bill was to the left of what his caucus preferred, but he wanted to show Reid that he would try to win its passage. When the bill fell short on savings, it gave him a perfect opportunity to go back to Reid and push it further to the right.

He did that, then rescheduled the vote.

Boehner knew he needed to provide Reid and the president with an object lesson, because they didn’t believe he could push through a more moderate bill.

By delaying, negotiating and postponing, he won the good faith of Tea Party members, even if many would vote against him.

Critically, Boehner also worked to strengthen his hand – and this is where Washington’s conventional wisdom got it wrong. By displaying his own weakness, he showed the president that if he wanted a bill and wanted to avoid default, then he, too, needed to move further to the right.

Richard Brown, distinguished professor of history at the University of Connecticut, agrees that, many times in our history, similar boiling points eventually have led to great compromises.

The U.S. Constitution “is a perfect example,” he said. “So was the Force Deal, masterly resolved by Clay.”

Democracy isn’t about getting all of what you want – although you might think it is, from how the media framed the debt debate. UConn’s Brown laments the media using what he terms “the most polarizing experts available” to explain to Americans what was going on. And he points to an example of the failure to compromise: Lincoln's refusal to deal with the South on slavery following his election.

The newly formed Confederacy called his bluff, then Lincoln called the Confederacy's bluff – and the rest is history.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.