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Susan Estrich
25 Nov 2015
God Bless America

With images of the carnage in Paris and the shuttering of Brussels flashing on every screen, it is hard to … Read More.

20 Nov 2015
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18 Nov 2015
Ben and Bernie's World

In the wake of the horrors in Paris, it only made sense to change the focus of Saturday night's Democratic … Read More.

Power and Powerlessness


Years ago, when the candidate I was working for rejected my advice, I made the mistake of going back to the headquarters and telling my loyal staff (who together had formulated the rejected proposal) that our recommendation had been declined. I did my best, I told them, but I just couldn't make the sale.

One of my closest pals, and one of the smartest politicos I've ever known, took me aside to tell me I had made a monstrous mistake. I thought he meant my failure to sell our plan. No, he said, that was clearly impossible. The mistake was telling everyone I'd failed, rather than convincing them that, upon further reflection, I'd changed my mind and come to the conclusion, shared by the candidate, that our plan was flawed.

You just admitted to half of the campaign that you are powerless, he explained. Far better in the long run for them to think you were just wrong.

Wise advice.

Someone should have told John Boehner.

He emerged from the latest debacle not as the guy who stood up, but as the guy who gave up. He comes out of it not wrong, but irrelevant.

On the day he was elected Speaker of the House, he was being tagged by friend and foe as the congressional equivalent of a lame duck, neither the leader of his party nor the leader of the House, the guy with the gavel, not the power, a man whose word does not mean a majority, even of his own whips.

He may get invited to the White House in the future, but it will be the Senate leaders who cut the deal with the president, and the Democrats in the House — joined by a minority of Republicans, the splinter group in a party divided — who enact it. The Speaker could not even hold his own lieutenants. He might just as well have agreed with them.

On the eve of the vote, the ever-pugnacious former Labor Secretary Bob Reich sent an email exhorting Democrats that no deal would be better than a bad deal. Actually, as a Democrat, I disagree.

The president might have been prepared to blame congressional Republicans, but he's the president, the guy who couldn't put the deal together. His State of the Union would have been a disaster, the very sort of ugly politics people voted against.

So there was a deal — a partial, unsatisfying deal that violated all of Boehner's claims that Republicans weren't ready to give on taxes, that dealt not at all with spending cuts, that was opposed by the majority of his party.

House Republicans didn't redeem themselves in the public's eye; they looked like a divided, weak and increasingly irrelevant group. They didn't stand on principle; they fell apart on politics.

What could he have done? If he couldn't get his party to the table to make a deal, then maybe the second best solution was not to advertise his weakness but to affirm his leadership, even if flawed. The result was a foregone conclusion. Boehner's fate was not.

He didn't just lose. He gave up any vestige of power.

Not an auspicious way to begin a new Congress. Publicly speaking, the folks who support the deal and the folks who oppose it can probably agree on one thing: The Speaker gets no credit with the former and plenty of blame from the latter. Lose-lose. There might have been no chance for him to win much, but losing with everyone is the one thing you want to avoid in politics — unless you are standing on principle in doing so.

I never heard Boehner stand up and say that even if he were the only Republican to support it, he would make a deal and stand by it. I never heard him say he'd resign if no one followed it.

When I complained to my friend that people would think I was wrong for doing whatever it was that I didn't want to do, he told me that unless I was willing to resign over it (and maybe I should have), holding on to the appearance of power is more important than taking the heat both inside and outside. Yep.

Boehner is now trying to double back, insisting he won't play ball in the future, that his principles really are that. It might work. But I wouldn't count on it. Power is easy to lose and hard to get back.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



6 Comments | Post Comment
Neither the Speaker of the House nor the Senate Majority Leader have a principle on which to stand. They spent the last four years opposing President Obama and failed to keep him from a second term. Unless the President does something really stupid (gun control comes to mind) he will own the next four years in spite of the right-wing-nuts who will be an ever decreasing minority in both houses of Congress.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Wed Jan 9, 2013 3:41 AM
Please make your next article about the ass in the senate - Harry Reid.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Oldtimer
Wed Jan 9, 2013 4:55 AM
So Susan is advocating lying to people to keep up a charade of power. Is this the way all politicians think? I think its fundamentally wrong. No wonder DC is so full of corruption.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Wed Jan 9, 2013 6:30 AM
That candidate you worked for was the wrong candidate and deserved to lose as is the case with 90% of all losing candidates. The winners win because they have the right message and the right personality to get the job done once they are elected. That is true most of the time. Many times, as in Speaker Boehner's case, the political registration in their home district determines victory. When that is the case, the Congressman or woman feels no obligation to compromise or work across the aisle. This develops a flawwed perspective of how to govern. One the one hand, you have a president who was re-elected by a majority of Americans of all political stripes and colors, and a candidate who has the support of one imbalanced home district. He only needs to please that home district. But as Spearker of the House, he only needs to mollify one more than half of the House to keep control. This, He has barely done. There comes a point when this obstructionism ceases to have value for the American public and the more the public realizes this in the 35 or so swing district now left up for grabs, the more this will hurt the Speaker's party. Swing voters are weary of this and next election will probably be turned off by the inability of these politicians to get anything substantial accomplished because they oppose Obama at every turn. That is a flawed strategy that will hurt in the long run. Why alert them to THEIR problem.???
Comment: #4
Posted by: robert lipka
Wed Jan 9, 2013 7:10 AM
Re: robert lipka
Nice to know you still favor dictatorship.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Oldtimer
Thu Jan 10, 2013 4:41 AM
Mr. Lipka wrote: "Many times, ..., the political registration in their home district determines victory. When that is the case, the Congressman or woman feels no obligation to compromise or work across the aisle. This develops a flawwed perspective of how to govern... "

A very deft analysis (intentional satire). Now could you please explain why this didn't apply to the Democrats in Congress during either of the Bush presidencies?

I won't hold my breath waiting for a coherent answer to this question.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Old Navy
Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:01 AM
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