Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Tale of Four Speakers

With the election of Paul Ryan to Speaker of the House, we've had four speakers since we launched this blog in 2006. In fact, for the last 10 years, we've had twice as many Speakers as Presidents. Incumbent Representatives have a notoriously high reelection rate. That makes the House of Representatives the most stable partisan cornerstone among our three elected branches of government and historically the most difficult to flip. As a consequence, from a dividist perspective, the party in majority control of the People's House pose the greatest risk to maintaining a divided government.  The often polarizing figure of the Speaker of the House is the key to the majority party maintaining or losing partisan control. In anticipation of Ryan's regime, it is instructive to look back at how the Dividist Papers assessed the three prior speakers.

Dennis Hastert - Speaker of the House - 1999 - 2006
This blog's first Speaker - Denny Hastert - was also in the news this week. As reported in NPR:
"Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in a case involving millions of dollars in hush money to keep secret allegations of misconduct decades ago... The guilty plea represents a dramatic fall from grace for the respected former lawmaker who served as House Speaker for eight years."
It was only a "fall from grace" if you weren't paying attention when he was Speaker of the House. Hastert was a frequent topic during the formative years of this blog.  In October of 2006 the Dividist predicted that "Even if re-elected, Denny Hastert will not serve out his term, but will be forced to resign in disgrace before the 2008 election." This on the basis of the gratuitous "dishonest graft" exhibited during his corrupt term:
Denny Hastert Tales From the Crypt
Hammering last nail in GOP coffin
"Denny Hastert purchased land near Plano, Illinois in 2002 and 2004 for $2.5 million. In 2005 he earmarked $207 million dollars of your tax dollars to build a highway and interchange that passed within a few miles of his property. Four months after GWB signed the bill into law, Denny Hastert then sold his land for almost $5 million dollars. This is a perfect example of what turn-of-the-century Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkitt called "dishonest graft". The interesting point, is that the 2006 Speaker of the House of the United States of America, the man who is third in line to the presidency of the United States, has engaged in activity that would not meet the moral standards of one of the most corrupt 1906 political participants of the most corrupt political organization in the history of the United States."
And that all occured before Hastert emerged as an enabler for the Foley scandal. That was the last straw for the American electorate in 2006, who promptly brought down the Republican majority in the House. Shortly thereafter Hastert resigned his seat.  As bad as Hastert looked in 2006 with his corrupt earmarks and unconscionable cover-up of the Foley scandal, it is even  worse when seen in the cold harsh light of his recent criminal revelations.

Nancy Pelosi - Speaker of the House 2007 - 2010
In 2006, Nancy Pelosi entered Stage Left as the Speaker of  the House, complete with a new Democratic majority in the legislature and the loss of Republican One Party Rule. She took the gavel promising to "drain the swamp" and usher in a new era of "partisan civlility" in Washington D.C.  From the Dividist's perspective she did, to a large degree, fulfill those promises during the divided government of the last two years of George W. Bush's administration. It was only after Democrats reclaimed One Party Rule in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama that Nancy Pelosi reasserted her partisan colors. She helped remind American voters yet again why One Party Rule is always a really bad idea. As summarized in our plea for sanity in the 2010 midterms:
A scary three headed monster
"So what have we seen since 2008? Massive spending increases and exploding deficits that make George W Bush look good in comparison...  An administration that embraces the power and scope of the Cheney/Bush Unitary Executive definition with an appetite for expanding the scope of the executive branch to managing the economy and private industry. A lapdog Congress that is not even pretending to exercise their constitutional executive oversight responsibility... 
Nothing says more about the dangers of legislation produced by One Party Rule than the two signature legislative achievements of this administration - ARRA (aka Porkulus) and HCR (aka Obamacare). The first, a wildy expensive stimulus package that does not stimulate, but does protect and expand public sector jobs while the private sector contracts, steamrolled on a purely partisan vote...  And what can one say about the Health Care Reform legislation that has not already been said? Wildly expensive, it does not reform the system, does not control costs, is not paid for, does not provide universal coverage, is insanely complex and no one understands how it works. Least of all Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic legislators who steamrolled it on a purely partisan vote."
John Boehner - Speaker of the House  2011 - 2015
And so, with the second "wave election" in four years, again in reaction to One Party Rule overreach, the Republicans improbably retook majority control of the House and John Boehner became Speaker of the House. Like many others, the Dividist could not resist identifying the the new Speaker as the first Orange-American to take the gavel. Bad jokes aside, we wondered what to expect:
He was a credit to Orange Americans
"For many Americans, John Boehner is more of an unknown today than Nancy Pelosi was in 2006. They know he is politically conservative, gets emotional on camera, and is orange. That's about it. What we will learn about him in his role as Speaker, how he will be perceived by the electorate in 2012 and 2014, and who is elected President in 2012 will be bigger factors in those elections than whether or not Nancy Pelosi continues to lead the Democrats in the House. Today, Boehner gets the benefit of the doubt from the electorate."
Now in 2015, the verdict is in. As Boehner passed the torch, he remains a divisive figure from the extremes of both parties. But from the perspective of this blogger, we need more Orange-Americans like John Boehner.  Brett LoGiurato of Business Insider sums up his legacy:
"... his loyalists and those who have worked for him sees a speaker who was misunderstood and consistently underrated. He banned earmarks, in a Congress that was obsessed with pork-barrel projects. He made the Bush tax cuts permanent, even with a president who had campaigned against them. He helped foster the first true entitlement reform in decades. "Biggest accomplishments, not in order: SGR Repeal [Medicare reform], cutting spending four years in a row, ending earmarks," emailed Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio)."
The Dividst would like to associate himself with LoGiurato's remarks. It is in the nature of divided government that neither party will be satisfied with any legislative outcome.  The Obama/Boehner Sequester compromise was universally reviled. That said, it did more to reduce the rate of federal spending than anything we've seen in decades and Boehner's crusade against earmarks has done more to drain the corruption swamp in D.C. than anytime in the recent history of Congress. Then there is that little fact that Boehner helped flip the House of Representatives from Democratic Party control and grew the GOP majority to historic levels. Under appreciated during his tenure as Speaker, history may yet find Boehner to be one of the most influential Speakers of all time.

His greatest move may have been his last. After four years of Republican majority control enjoying the biggest Republican House majority in the modern era, his surprise resignation handing the gavel to the widely respected Paul Ryan very well may have locked up a GOP majority in the House for another decade.

All Paul D. Ryan has to do now is not screw it up.

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