By Eugene Robinson
If John Boehner feels like renting a movie this holiday weekend, I suggest he steer clear of the 1954 sci-fi horror flick “Them!” In it, nuclear testing in the New Mexico desert creates a marauding colony of giant mutant ants.
That might be enough to afflict the House minority leader—normally a study in Rat Pack cool—with nightmares and cold sweats.
Boehner’s jaw-dropping observation that President Obama’s financial regulatory reform legislation is “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon” has gladdened the hearts of Democratic political operatives from coast to coast.
Obama got in his licks on Wednesday. “That’s what he said—he compared the financial crisis to an ant,” the president told a Wisconsin crowd. “This is the same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly 8 million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes, their life savings.”
The Republican idea seems to be, Obama joked, that all the country needs is an “ant swatter.”
Later that day, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Boehner if he wanted “a do-over on that metaphor.” But Boehner didn’t really take her up on the offer. He made clear that, basically, he meant what he said.
“I wasn’t talking about the financial crisis,” he said, but rather about “fixing the problems on Wall Street.” But that’s a distinction without a difference, since it was the problems on Wall Street that caused the financial crisis, reckoned by most economists to be the worst since the Great Depression.
Then Boehner continued with more of the blind ideology and deliberate distortion that have characterized his party’s approach to, well, just about everything these days. “My point is this,” he said. “We could have fixed this problem, plugged the holes, brought more transparency to the system without a 2,300-page bill that puts the federal government in charge of our entire financial sector.”
It’s worth taking a moment to parse that sentence. The distortion comes at the end. No, the regulatory reform bill, which passed the House on Wednesday, doesn’t put the government in charge of Wall Street. What it does, essentially, is redraw the parameters within which financial firms operate—in an attempt to constrain some of the irresponsibility and excess that led to the crisis—while also providing some consumer protections. Oh, and Boehner knows full well that making a big deal of the bill’s page count is a canard. Because any new legislation modifies or supplants specific sections and subsections of existing laws, final bills have to be written not in English but in dense gobbledygook. Any substantial initiative proposed by Republicans—if the party decided to do something, rather than just say no—could also function well as a doorstop.
As for the ideology in Boehner’s modified, limited clarification, look at that three-word phrase “plugged the holes.” There you have the party’s current philosophy in a nutshell: Just chew up a wad of gum, stick it into the crack where water is leaking, and whistle contentedly as you stroll away.
When Obama called on Congress to address the shameful fact that 46 million Americans lacked health insurance, Republicans first opposed all reform and then grudgingly suggested a few incremental measures that would nibble at the problem from the margins. When decades of deregulation and laissez faire enabled Wall Street to take such insane risks—with other people’s money—that the global financial system came within a whisper of collapse, the Republican response is to tinker rather than restructure. The party’s slogan for November should be: “It’s all good. Except for that Obama guy. And Nancy Pelosi.”
That’s the worldview that produced Rep. Joe Barton’s assessment of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: that BP, which admits responsibility for one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, is somehow the aggrieved party because mean old Obama convinced the company to set aside $20 billion to fulfill its legal obligations.
That’s the philosophy that led Sharron Angle, who is trying to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to opine that the way to reduce unemployment is to cut unemployment benefits—and to tell voters that if she’s elected, trying to create jobs for Nevadans won’t be part of her job description.
It’s all good. But, at least after this week, I’m pretty sure that if actual giant mutant ants were to appear, they’d get the Republican Party’s attention.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group