Leadership is contextual. LBJ, thrust into today’s congressional environment, would be bewildered and frustrated; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is no Everett Dirksen, and Boehner is no Gerald Ford. Throughout his first term, Obama faced uncompromising opposition. Bold public pronouncements and sweet private talk had no chance of winning GOP votes in 2011 and 2012. Republicans acted like radical insurgents determined to make the president a one-termer.
3. Boehner was the big loser.
A constant refrain throughout the 112th Congress was that Boehner was a weak speaker. His 2010 warning to his party colleagues against using the debt limit to force spending cuts went unheeded. Backbenchers routinely objected to leadership compromises and denied the speaker a majority on the House floor — most recently on his “Plan B” legislation during the fiscal cliff negotiations. His leadership team was more of a threat than a source of support.
But Boehner’s problem was a lack of followership, not leadership. His party conference was filled with zealots who had an animus toward Obama. Many of his colleagues were far more worried about primary challenges from the right than about pressure from their leaders in Congress. Under these conditions, Boehner’s success in getting the Senate’s fiscal cliff deal to the House floor for an up-or-down vote, in spite of the opposition of a majority of Republicans,was an example of effective leadership in the face of severe adversity.
4. Debt-limit debacles will become business as usual in Congress.
From 1960 to August 2011, Congress voted 78 times to increase the debt limit, 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. Political gamesmanship was routine: Many lawmakers not of the president’s party would oppose increasing the debt limit, claiming fealty to fiscal discipline; partisans of the president would vote aye, noting a responsibility to govern and protect the full faith and credit of the United States.