Sunday, February 13, 2011

John Boehner, Uncharacteristically Right

"Even a stopped clock," the cliche runs, "is right twice a day."

John Boehner is not right twice a day. Or twice a week. And perhaps not twice a month.

But he is right about one thing- or at least was on today's Meet The Press. The line of questioning from host David Gregory presumably was prompted by the scandalous scandalous! finding several days ago by GOP consultant and voter manipulator Frank Luntz that many Iowa Republicans apparently believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. Running one of his famous focus groups (video below) following Bill O'Reilly's interview of the President, Luntz discovered that approximately half the Iowa Republican caucus participants in the group believe Obama is a Muslim.

Here is the relevant portion of the exchange (program transcript, here):

MR. GREGORY: As the speaker of the House, as a leader, do you not think it's your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?

SPEAKER BOEHNER: David, it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That's good enough for me. The president says he's a Christian. I accept him at his word.

MR. GREGORY: But isn't that a little bit fast and loose? I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you're not standing up to obvious facts and saying, "These are facts. If you don't believe that, it's nonsense."

SPEAKER BOEHNER: I just outlined the facts as I understand them. I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian. I'll take him at his word. But, but...

MR. GREGORY: But that kind of ignorance about whether he's a Muslim doesn't concern you?

Advertise | AdChoices SPEAKER BOEHNER: Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can't--it's not my job to tell them.

MR. GREGORY: Why isn't it your job to stand up and say, "No, the facts are these"?


MR. GREGORY: Didn't John McCain do that...

SPEAKER BOEHNER: I, I, I just did.

MR. GREGORY: What you're saying, "It's good enough for me," is that really standing up and saying, for those who believe that or who would talk about that--you had a member of Congress, you had a new tea party freshman who was out just yesterday speaking to conservatives, and he said, "I'm fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I do have a birth certificate to prove it." That was Raul Labrador, a new--a congressman from Idaho. Is that an appropriate way for your members to speak?

SPEAKER BOEHNER: The gentleman was, was trying to be funny, I would imagine. But remember something, it's not--it really is not our job to tell the American people what to believe and what to think. There's a lot of information out there, people read a lot of things...

MR. GREGORY: You shouldn't stand up to misinformation or stereotypes?

SPEAKER BOEHNER: ...but, but, but, but, but I've made clear what I believe the facts are.

MR. GREGORY: But is, is it, is it because it weakens the president politically, it seeks to delegitimize him that you sort of want to let it stay out there?

SPEAKER BOEHNER: No. What I'm trying to do is to do my job. Our job is to focus on spending. We're spending too much money here in Washington. The president's going to outline this new budget tomorrow, that I outlined earlier, spends too much, borrows too much, and taxes too much. And the president wants to talk about winning the future. This isn't winning the future, it's spending the future.

George Zornick, blogging on, the blog of the Center for American Progress, does not agree. He finds the House Speaker's acceptance of Barack Obama as an American-born Christian insufficient and unsatisfying. He argues

Gregory directly accused Boehner of hedging because “it weakens the president politically, it seeks to de-legitimize him,” to which Boehner reacted with visible indignation. But it’s hard to imagine Gregory isn’t correct. Boehner and his fellow Republicans — like all politicians — always try to persuade Americans, and “tell them what to think” on a wide range of issues. Just minutes earlier, Boehner was warning against a deficit crisis he said is caused by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and told Gregory: “I think it’s incumbent on the leaders in Washington, those of us to go out and help the American people understand how big the problem is.”

Gregory maintains "you are the leader in Congress and you are not standing up to obvious facts and saying these are facts." Well, yes, he is saying these are the facts and yes, he is the leader in Congress- but not the leader of President Obama's party.

It is Boehner's job to persuade the American people that maintaining current benefits for the elderly is foolish, asking the wealthy to assume their share of taxes is wrong, deficit spending by the federal government is fine when the economy is humming along but destructive when it is needed to stimulate jobs, and the financial industry is being unfairly targeted by politicians who believe it bears major responsibility for throwing the country into a deep recession. The ideas are wrongheaded, but they are conservative, and that's the agenda- a policy or ideological agenda, as party leaders ought to set out.

Barack Obama's American citizenship and affiliation with Christianity are not part of the GOP agenda and it is not part of the responsibility of the the congressional leader of the opposing party to convince the American people of what is virtually indisputable. Boehner did his part, stating

Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.

You, dear and discriminating reader, are a Roman Catholic (or Protestant, Jew, Muslim, etc.) I know because- and only because- you say that you are. There really is no other way to know and your word is sufficient. You could produce a baptismal certificate but, as with Barack Obama, that really shouldn't be, and isn't, necessary.

Further if you assert that you were born in Indiana (or Kansas, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, or Hawaii) and the good folks in Indianapolis agree, that's good enough for me. I know that you're an Indiana-born Roman Catholic because you say that you are and, on the latter point, the state agrees.

That is all Speaker Boehner said. And all that needs to be said. Much of the left (such as this blogger on Crooks and Liars) seems apoplectic that top Republicans have chosen not to lead a crusade to convince their supporters of what, unfortunately, neither Barack Obama nor his supporters have been able to. It is, politically, a masochistic strategy. Telling the American people they are ignorant, then asking for their votes, is not going to win them over. John Boehner understands that and the left ought to, also.

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