Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

18 October 2013

When the government shutdown began, it felt like something had clearly happened but it wasn’t as if all the lights were out. Sure, the hyperbolic headlines and the countdowns for fiscal doom were everywhere but it wasn’t really easy to figure out who the villain was.

At times it seemed an all-out joust between President Barack Obama and speaker of the house John Boehner – each side accusing the other of being unwilling to negotiate. In order to allow new funding the government, Republicans had a laundry list of things they wanted to secure first. It was a proverbial gun to the heads of Democrats. The President said it was non-negotiable.

During the government shutdown that followed, it was clear some conservatives had the idea that the legal and political way to restart proceedings was to repeal a legitimately passed healthcare law, open up new oil exploration, limit a woman’s right to control her own body (putting restrictions on federal birth-control programmes) and let coal-fired power plants continue to pollute. Those are just highlights.

So, if you want to identify a villain it seems fairly clear that speaker John Boehner might be a good candidate. He’s at least the GOP’s messenger in this fight. But, maybe he’s more like Captain Hook, of the famous Peter Pan tale. In the motion picture version, Hook, I recall a little girl turning to the pirate and uttering something painfully simple, but true. “You need a mother very, very badly,” she cried. It’s at this moment that we remember this villain is a person. He has a life and other factors affecting him that might not let him be the best person he can be.

John Boehner is but a man, often billed as a deeply pious and devoted public servant. He is sometimes painted as a villain in the press – stern-faced and brazenly coy about his dislike of the President’s agenda. And, in all of this fiscal absurdity, he has been the man with the keys to a resolution.

Late last week the media’s narrative on this career congressman changed. He had been the villain before but now he was a pawn in the wretched game that Tea Party politicians had waited for. Boehner was the fracture line in a party that had tried, in vain, to show a united front. Alas, deep within that party was a ticking clock. Now I’m reminded of Captain Hook’s death-defying escapes from the crocodile that swallowed the clock – its eyes just watching; waiting for him to slip up.

With a resolution at hand, we’re left to wonder if Boehner really is a bad guy. Was he doing what he thought was right, or was he simply dodging the crocodile? It was a clear win for democrats and even long-standing GOP allies are beginning to think that it’s time for those running the party to walk the plank.

That’s something I don’t believe even your mother can save you from.

Tristan McAllister is transport editor for Monocle

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