Tuesday, March 14, 2006

# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN BOEHNER? CAN'T SAY I'VE HEARD OF HIM. For 15 minutes after Tom DeLay stepped down and the GOP had a competitive race for the Majority Leadership, the punditocracy and the blogosphere were talking about John Boehner. After besting Roy Blunt in the leadership contest, Boehner was an instant headliner on Meet the Press.

But talk about an opportunity lost. Lending a measure of vindication to his liberal critics, Boehner hasn't done much to keep lobbying reform front and center, even though the depth of public outrage gave him a pretty good opporunity to take the bull by the horns and establish a reputation for himself as a principled reformer.

Even on the Dubai ports deal, when Congress proudly trumpeted its ignorance in true bipartisan fashion, Boehner was nowhere to be heard. Well, maybe that's a good thing.

In fact, Boehner is now low-key enough to show up on the Jim Lehrer NewsHour, where he was last night. I'd say that Boehner mostly offered up a lot of inoffensive, non-substantive non-answers. Except on Iraq. On that subject, his assessment was so glowing you had to ask whether he is a True Believer or a true cynic. Without knowing more about Boehner, I won't even hazard a guess.

In general, you would think that OxBlog wants influential congressmen to say things like:
Helping bring about democracy in a part of the world that's never known one is the most important gift that we could ever leave for our kids and theirs. Our fathers fought in World War II, the great war. And if they had not done what they did and if they had not won the war, who knows what our future would have been like? And we went to Iraq for the right reasons. We're there for the right reasons. It has been a difficult fight but when you look down the road ten, twenty, thirty years, it really will be a wonderful gift for our kids and theirs to have a more stable and peaceful Middle East.
I still believe that with the benefit of thirty years' hindsight, the invasion of Iraq may, may be seen as a turning point toward democracy in the Middle East. But all this talk of Great Wars and Wonderful Gifts seems to be a set up for disappointment. Followed by a backlash.

Congressional Republicans have a tendency to wax eloquent about the virtues of an expansive, idealistic foreign policy when a hawkish Republican is in the White House, only to become bashful doves when a Democrat becomes president. One prominent example is Trent Lott, a hawk throughout the 80s who said with regard to Kosovo "Give peace a chance."

What accounts for the change? I think the answer is pretty simple. GOP legislators' conviction on this subject just doesn't run that deep. Their rhetoric may be a little bit more than window-dressing, but it is still the kind of conviction that can be forgotten once it becomes inconvenient.

Of course, idealism in the White House can win some true converts in the House. As I discovered while researching my dissertation, Reagan's expansive rhetoric about democracy promotion had a profound impact on John McCain and Dick Lugar, even though Reagan often failed to act on his own principles.

That is why I trust McCain and Lugar. They've been talking about what I care about for more than twenty years now. I guess there's a chance that Boehner will follow in there footsteps. But neither McCain nor Lugar was ever starry-eyed about their idealism. They never expected democracy to be a silver bullet. Instead, they recognized it as a policy that could have a dramatic impact if applied consistently overly the long term.

Easier said than done.
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