Those UTD students who haven’t begun shooting up pumpkin spice lattes, wearing a parka on sixty degree mornings, or binge-watching House to study for Anatomy midterms may have noticed that news from Washington has taken an intriguing new tone this autumn. Notable examples of a new wave of D.C. shake-ups include a rare alignment between far left Democrats and far right Republicans in opposition to President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with a historic visit from Pope Francis— whose more liberal take on social and environmental issues has left God-fearing, Bible-toting, “Jesus hates tree-huggers” conservatives with some explaining to do. Yet the most perplexing turn of events thus far has been House Republicans’ decision to finally seek medical treatment for their Boehner lasting longer than four years.
Speaker of the House since 2011, John Boehner (choose your own pronunciation) rose up to the position after Republicans in 2010 chose to address their failing performance by sheepishly swallowing the pill of Tea Party rhetoric. With this new support, Republicans found a vitality they had long lacked and proceeded to win a majority in the House, elevating Boehner to a position of confident stature. With the Republican Party dependent upon the Tea Party to perform respectably in Congress and maintain the power of Boehner, the public expected Boehner’s actions as Speaker to be characterized by rigid, unyielding, and stiff adherence to Republican principles.
Alas, the Tea Party wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The more familiar result of Republican leadership has been gridlock, posturing, and inability to bring legislation to completion. Despite the boost of Tea Party enhancement, congressional Republicans are, for the most part, the same irritable, aging white men they were a decade ago. Faced with internal conflict, feelings of inadequacy, and stark refusal from Democrats to participate in lawmaking, Republicans have consistently blamed Boehner for their problems. However, as an unintended side effect of the Tea Party support that gave Republicans the majority, Boehner has remained in his position as Speaker — albeit limply negotiating at times — for more than four years.
The discerning citizen should have been very skeptical upon hearing of Boehner’s resignation, for so many questions have been left unanswered. Who will be the next Speaker? Why should I care? What is the connection between his resignation and the Pope’s visit, a crowning achievement of Boehner’s speakership? Why would a powerful politician willingly give up his power? And perhaps the most important question: did congressional Republicans go through the insurance marketplace to obtain treatment for their condition? When considered in conjunction, these unresolved ambiguities are more than idle musings, and may in fact reveal a profound and previously undetected connection between the federal government and the Holy See.
The answer begins with Pope Francis. Blessed, like all popes, with the ability to speak the word of God, Francis has nonetheless deviated significantly from his predecessors. We mortals will never know whether God has changed His mind, or Francis needs a hearing aid, but Catholics around the world have embraced the Pope’s new message of compassion and responsible stewardship of our planet. That is, except for the Catholics in God’s favorite nation: The United States of America. In the context of a political culture where God, guns, and Guantanamo have been sewn into a political union of rural social conservatism and pro-big business economics baptized in the image of Saint Reagan, advocacy for environmental protection and criticism of capitalism (when issued by a religious leader) rub conservatives the wrong way.
One such conservative Catholic is John Boehner. In the face of enormous responsibilities to the American public and the daunting challenge of orchestrating and maneuvering legislation through a broken Congress, he never lost sight of his most important task: bringing the Pope to the U.S. Using his time off during government shutdowns productively, Boehner managed, after four years as speaker, to have Pope Francis speak before Congress this fall. Apparently, Boehner decided that his job was now finished, because only days after the Pope addresses the public at the White House, with Boehner sobbing next to him, Boehner announced his resignation.
Some may be tempted to read Boehner’s behavior as a sign of personal fulfillment; he made history in a deeply personal way, and thought it appropriate to bow out. Others interpret his resignation as the product of spiritual soul-searching sparked by his meeting with Francis— a choice to step away from the criticism and workload to seek comfort and solace in God. Don’t let these speculators deceive you. If there is one universal truth about politicians, it is that they sold their souls to get elected, and policy will forever take a backseat to the politics of power that keep the Super PAC dollars flowing. What, then, could convince Boehner to resign his position of political might in Washington?
The most obvious answer is that Boehner, as a loyal Catholic, obeyed direct orders from Pope Francis to resign as Speaker. Since the election of Kennedy, Americans have rightfully questioned whether Catholic politicians, with their loyalty to a foreign theocratic entity, uncomfortably straddle Jefferson’s wall between church and state. One need only to turn to Hollywood and the greater entertainment industry — that noble bastion of truth and clairvoyance in a murky world — to learn that the Vatican is the nexus for some seriously hardcore political conspiracies. Following the principle that art holds a mirror to nature and that we humans would naturally direct a mirror found pointing at a tree towards ourselves instead, everything depicted in the movies must have some reflection in reality. Furthermore, one need only look at the Vatican, with its ancient buildings, time-honored traditions, and men in funny costumes, to smell a conspiracy brewing.
However, it is undeniable that Catholics hold considerable sway in the U.S. government. There are 163 of them in Congress alone. With Boehner as their leader, they were undoubtedly tasked by the master manipulators in Rome to implement a Catholic agenda in America. But as the Pope looked out over this country and professed his doctrine of love and acceptance, of generosity and compassion, of respect for all of God’s creation, he was also looking out over a Congress of Republicans, under Boehner’s leadership, actively engaged in fighting many of those values. Boehner resigned because he failed. So, as Boehner cried on the White House lawn, he did not shed tears of joy or relief, he wept with shame.
Many pundits believe that Boehner’s successor will be more aggressively conservative, and will be more active in appeasing Tea Party interests. But the Republicans already tried Tea Party enhancement, and it just couldn’t replicate real passion. Instead, they could stand to learn from the lesson of Boehner. Although you may be able to deceive the masses into believing you have their best interests at heart, you can’t fool God. Anyone who considers replacing Boehner as Speaker must be prepared to look the world’s conscience in the eye without flinching, and answer for their actions, good or bad. I have complete faith that the next Speaker will do just that. Unlike their choice of Boehner, the House will select the next speaker and ensure they have an appropriate lack of morals.